Raleigh commission warns $2B soccer plan could displace residents, council may still okay it

Plans for a $2 billion office/residential/hotel complex in Raleigh including a $180 million stadium for the USL’s North Carolina F.C. and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage have been burbling along for more than a year now, as locals expressed concerns about the more than $300 million in city and county tax money that would be required over 30 years and also about encouraging gentrification and whether the city could afford any of this during a pandemic recession budget. Still, Steve Malik, the owner of the two soccer teams, and local developer John Kane got as far as a vote of Raleigh’s Planning Commission last night on rezoning the land, when things when unexpectedly awry, as the commission voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request because, man, I dunno, you try to parse all this:

“I find this whole thing disappointing because there is a general opportunity here for Raleigh, but you can’t do it at the expense of people,” said commissioner Jennifer Lampman.

“Maybe this is a really good thing, but it’s coming before things are in place to guide the growth to ensure that it is equitable. I worry by approving this now we will be signing off on the potential for disproportionally high and adverse transportation, environmental, economic and social impacts and there would primarily be bored by black communities,” said commissioner Nicole H. Bennett

“This rezoning application shows a vicious disregard for equity and fairness,” said commissioner Michele McIntosh.

The upshot — assuming WNCN-TV meant to type “borne,” not “bored” — seems to be that the planning commission is mostly worried that the project would price out residents of southeast Raleigh without consulting them first, a concern that has been raised in the past. And it’s a legit concern: Big development projects absolutely can, if not directly raise property values themselves, serve as a way to market a neighborhood as “revitalized,” which is the kind of thing that deep-pocketed newcomers like to hear, because less-well-heeled residents are unvital if not a little bit scary.

Still, we shouldn’t give short shrift to the concern that spending as much as $335 million in public money (mostly future property tax kickbacks, plus some other public cash) on a project based around a 20,000-seat stadium for one minor-league soccer team and one women’s soccer team — teams that currently average about 4,000 and 6,000 fans per game, respectively — is a little bit nutso. Malik has talked of wanting an MLS-ready stadium for Raleigh, but even though MLS seems determined to put a team in every city in North America, Charlotte is already getting an expansion team in 2022 with the help of public stadium upgrades, so a second North Carolina team probably isn’t going to be a priority anytime soon. (There was discussion earlier this year of downsizing the proposed stadium to 12,000 seats, but WNCN is saying 20,000 seats again, so either the developers are back to their original plan or the station’s proofreaders were asleep at the switch again.)

This whole mess will be dumped in the lap of the Raleigh city council for a public hearing next Tuesday, at which point lawmakers will decide whether to move ahead with the project or just torpedo the whole thing once and for all. Or at least until the developers inevitably return with a new plan, maybe one where they’ve paid to create some local pro-development groups? That’s how the pros do it.