The Hickory City Council conducted business last week ... in Charlotte.
They were in town for a retreat that focused on whether to seek a tax hike for a project to renovate and redesign the city’s public spaces by improving existing parks and building greenways in Hickory.
Hickory City Councilman Danny Seaver looks out longingly at the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
"It's beautiful what they've done here," Seaver says. "Put it this way, I hope I live to see something like this in Hickory.”
Hickory’s City Council and staff met at Dressler’s restaurant near uptown overlooking the greenway. Council is discussing whether to seek voter approval for a $40 million 20-year bond. That plan would require tax rate increases that would range from nearly 4 cents to 7.42 cents, depending on the year. So if you own a home valued at about $150,000, property taxes would go up from about $60 in year two of the bond up to $111 in the fifth year.
The money would go towards the Inspiring Spaces Initiative, a plan to revive the city’s downtown, with more artwork, trees, bike lanes, greenways, water fountains and major renovations to the city’s existing landmarks like its Union Square and the Lake Hickory Waterfront.
Hickory mayor Rudy Wright says it might be better to seek smaller bonds in installments.
"We need to decide: do $40 million now or do you got out for $20 million and plan to go back for $10 million and $10 million? Don't misunderstand me," Wright says. "I'd like to go for $40 and get the approval. But we want to get something passed."
Mayor Wright and other members of council reason that if you build greenways and make the city more aesthetically pleasing, people will want to live in Hickory.
Attracting Jobs, Young People
In the last decade, the Hickory Metro area suffered the greatest percentage of job losses of all metro areas in North Carolina. That's according to a report by the Western Piedmont Council of Governments. Since 2000, the metro area lost more than 47,000 jobs – about 25 percent of its workforce – mostly in manufacturing.
As a result, the population of Hickory itself has stagnated at about 40,000 and council members worry that number will fall dramatically if something isn't done to attract young people.
U.S. Census figures show the number of 20-44 year olds in the Hickory metro area dropped by more than 12,000 between 2000 and 2010.
Hickory City Councilman Brad Lail says the Inspiring Spaces initiative can help reverse that trend.
"This is much more than one project and it's much more than a greenway," Lail says. "This is about reinventing the public realm in Hickory to take advantage of the recovering economy. It's intentioned to create an environment that's competitive among other cities so we can attract young people and so we can attract population and build job opportunities."
In addition to Charlotte, council members also visited six other cities including Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Rock Hill, South Carolina.