Day two of the Metro Leadership Visit started off early, particularly for those folks who ventured out to explore downtown Raleigh last night. But the agenda is too packed to sleep in, so off we go.
The day’s first panel discussion over breakfast focused on the region’s economic development history. Our guest speakers, Ernest Pearson and John Skvrala from Nexsen Pruet, traced the growth of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) from a concept in the 1950s to its take off in the ’70s and ’80s.
While the RTP is well known today, it was not an overnight success. In fact, 10 years after its initial formation, a local newspaper headline declared RTP a failure. They weren’t the first in the park, but IBM’s decision to locate a large R&D facility established RTP on the international stage. Years later, layoffs at IBM spurred another round of economic growth when lots of smart people suddenly had the drive to found their own tech companies.
Much has changed in the Research Triangle region over the decades, but one thing remains constant: a highly talented workforce with technology skills is the key to success.
The next stop on the itinerary was The Dillon, a 17 story public-private partnership building. The project, developed by John Kane, features eight floors of parking to serve downtown Raleigh’s newly redeveloped Union Station rail and bus terminal. Above that are nine stories of office space. The ninth floor lobby and veranda was the perfect venue for our next discussion topics: transportation, transit and attainable housing.
Joe Milazzo, Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Alliance, kicked off with a rapid-fire overview of transportation in the Greater Raleigh Region. The organization’s sole mission is to get the region moving faster. They do it by leveraging the power of the business community to push for the highest priority road and transit projects and innovative mobility solutions.
Joe recounted Wake County’s 2016 ballot referendum to fund transit. The referendum passed with 53% of the vote, making a fairly simple message:
“A vote for transit funding is not a vote for growth, it’s a vote against chaos.” It’s an important message for any fast growing region, failure to invest in transportation infrastructure doesn’t slow down your growth, it just makes everyone’s quality-of-life suffer. Said more succinctly: if you don’t build it, they will still come.
Following the overview, Joe was joined by a panel of colleagues including the leaders of GoRaleigh, GoTriangle, City of Raleighand the Capital Area MPO. The all-star lineup dug into Wake County’s bus rapid transit development project. The planned 28-mile system will have four corridors branching from downtown Raleigh.
Funding for the project is primarily local dollars with some federal matching dollars. Panelists stressed that, given the uncertainty of federal transit policy and low likelihood of state investment in transit, a dedicated local funding source is essential. By assuming the worst case scenario for funding support from outside sources, you can be assured of not overpromising and under delivering.
I’m closing with words of wisdom from Milazzo: “Never be amazed at how long transportation projects take to build, be amazed that they ever get built at all.”
Housing attainability was the final session of the morning. We learned that Raleigh region’s housing prices are lower on average than prices in Charleston, but shortage of affordable housing options are a major economic challenge that elected leaders are all taking seriously.
Paul Kane from the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County cited four main drivers of increased housing costs:
- Labor shortage
- Materials costs
First among those is demand. Population growth has outpaced new supply of housing in the region. In particular, the market needs more of what Sig Hutchinson, Vice Chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, called the “missing middle.” Raleigh has lots of single-family homes and a good share of new multi-family homes coming on the market, but they lack the duplexes, townhomes and other types of units that are so often housing stair steps for working families.
The solution is more density and more flexibility in the zoning code, and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was quick to note that they’re working on changes. She stressed the need for increased density, particularly along the identified BRT Corridors. Their comprehensive land-use plan has three overarching goals:
- Promote density
- Integrate housing with transit
- Integrate land use with health outcomes
While much of the conversation was about density, zoning and regulations, panelists noted that the region is putting financial resources into housing. Both the city and the county levied a million on their property tax assessment to fund more affordable housing development. Mayor McFarlane underscored the city’s desire to partner. “We don’t want to be landlords, we want to put our dollars into deals so partners can leverage other funds to meet our demand for affordable housing.”
Metro Leadership Visit Recap- Day two, Part One provided by Ian Scott, SVP – Government Relations
This was only half the day! Don’t forget to check out Day Two (Part Two) …