Spotlight On: Beat Kahli, President and CEO, Avalon Park Group

Spotlight On: Beat Kahli, President and CEO, Avalon Park Group

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read February 2020 — The Sunshine State has been a beacon of light for companies and families wishing to live, learn, work and play under the sun. Much of the population growth happening in Florida is concentrated in Central and South Florida. Compared to South Florida, the Orlando market still has land to develop and has done a great job in diversifying its economy, Avalon Park Group CEO Beat Kahli told Invest: Orlando. The group is developing four projects spanning from Tampa to Daytona Beach and focusing on mixed-use communities where residents can live, learn, work and play.  

How would you describe the strength of the real estate market in Orlando today?

Orlando has a high level of infrastructure, with the Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center, University of Central Florida and a broad job base. The level of infrastructure compared to the pricing on real estate is one of the biggest advantages in the area. If you compare Orlando to other markets like South Florida and New York, Orlando still has land. While we still have a lot of land available, Orlando has done a great job in diversifying its economy. The I-4 corridor is key to the region’s growth and I see Orlando and Tampa growing together. 

 

What are your most significant projects in Central Florida?

We have four large projects in the I-4 corridor between North Tampa, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Tavares. We have over 20,000 residential units and those projects are all at different stages. Our Avalon Park Orlando project is 99% completed. For this project, we focused first on young families. We have 10,000 students stationed in our school district and thousands of homes already built. The community is a great place to live, learn, work and play with a variety of apartments, single homes, town houses, schools and about 150 businesses.  

 

What are some trends in Orlando’s real estate market?

People are interested in mixed-use development communities where you can live, learn, work and play. Building smaller homes is another trend, especially due to their affordability. People are getting smaller homes with higher upgrades in design and finishes. The most important change is toward live, learn, work, play communities and the quality of life these present. Co-working spaces are also a trend and we have already started to include these types of spaces in our communities. 

 

What is your outlook for Orlando’s real estate sector in the next year?

We have done a much better job after the Great Recession. When I look back on the last decade of recovery, I’m very positive about Central Florida for the next 20 years. However, we expect the real estate sector to stabilize within the next two years. Central Florida has attractive prices, and its diversified economy provides great opportunities for real estate investments.  

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

https://www.avalonparkgroup.com/team/

Spotlight On: Alan Zuckerman, Managing Shareholder & COO, Flaster Greenberg PC

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read February 2020 — Flaster Greenberg’s South Jersey attorneys are bringing in new talent to hone and increase the services they offer their mostly business and high-net-worth clientele, which include everything from M&A to succession work, while preparing to face challenges such as the impending legalization of cannabis in the state, the nationwide PFAS environmental problem and the changes to retirement planning contained in the SECURE Act,. Invest: spoke with Flaster Greenberg PC’s Managing Shareholder & COO Alan Zuckerman. 

 

What sets Flaster Greenberg apart from other law firms in the South Jersey market?

 

We are a midsized commercial law firm specializing in pretty much every practice that businesses and high-net-worth individuals, our primary clientele, would need. Most of our lawyers have come from large Philadelphia firms. We pride ourselves in doing the same type and quality of work as the larger firms, but at lower rates and more efficiently.

 

Most recently, we have done a tremendous amount of deals and merger and acquisition work. We have also had some very large bankruptcy cases. Regarding M&A, it has been all over the industry. Most of our clients have usually been closely-held businesses, even some very large ones. At some point, some of those businesses have to be passed on to the new generation, or they are sold. As a result, we have been seeing a tremendous amount of activity in the sale market, and we have been representing a lot of companies in all business sectors that are selling, in many cases to private equity firms. Private equity firms have been the most active buyers in the transactions we have been representing.

 

Is there any legislation, local or federal, that could have an impact on the way you or your clients do business?

 

There are two significant pieces of legislation, one at the national and another at the state level. There are environmental laws coming in that could mean a lot of environmental litigation. The others are, on a national level, the SECURE Act, which really impacts retirement plans, in particular, the amount and period of time in which people with 401k retirement plans will be allowed to take money out of their retirement plans and defer paying taxes. This new law substantially changes those rules and shortens the period of time for withdrawals. For many people who have done planning on their retirement plans, that is all going to have to be revamped.

 

There is also the pending legalization of cannabis in the state of New Jersey. We have some businesses gearing up for it, although there has not been a whole lot of demand just yet.

 

What are the main challenges facing firms and their clients in the South Jersey area?

 

One of the challenges is rate pressure, as our clients are cost-sensitive to legal work, as they should be, and that requires lawyers to be more efficient in their work. From a local standpoint, the opportunity we find in the South Jersey market is that office spaces are much less expensive compared to Philadelphia, which is only a few miles away. Although we have seen most of our growth over the last few years in Philadelphia and expect to see more, we made the decision last year to renew our lease here in South Jersey because the occupancy cost is less expensive.

 

One of the downsides in South Jersey we face for that decision is the lack of transportation infrastructure. We get into Philadelphia but that is about it. There is no local transportation for the most part. From a statewide perspective, taxes are very high, both income and property taxes, which make it harder for businesses to stay or relocate here.

 

What are the company’s main areas of focus for 2020?

 

Our focus is to continue to be able to be a full-service firm with very efficient and quick response to our clients. To do that, we feel that we need to continue to grow, bringing new attorneys into our firm. In addition to a six-lawyer firm we have already brought into the fold, we have expanded our footprint into the western Philadelphia suburbs with the opening of our Conshohocken, PA, office last June. Most recently, we grew our intellectual property department by welcoming an 11-member patent team headquartered in the firm’s Philadelphia office.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

 

https://www.flastergreenberg.com/

 

Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

By: Sara Warden

2 min read February 2020 — Democrat Gov. Tom focused his 2020-21 budget on education and income, proposing an increase in spending of almost 6% to $34 billion over the fiscal year, including $600 million to cover cost overruns. Republicans criticized the heavy reliance of the budget on the assumption that revenue would grow by 4.5% ($1.6 billion) over the period. The proposals also require borrowing funds. “It’s easy to put things on a credit card and then ask other people in the future to pay for it,” said Republican State Representative Stan Saylor. “That is not the solution for Pennsylvania.”

 1. There will be no major tax increases

Instead of tax increases for citizens, several novel approaches were proposed in the budget to fund services, one of which was a state police fee based on number of incidents and coverage area. Wolf estimates the initiative will bring in $136 million to fund police services. Another way taxes could stay flat is by imposing a tax on the Marcellus Shale natural gas field to be placed in a $4.5 billion infrastructure fund. Based on 2019 production, Wolf believes the tax would generate more than $600 million per year.

Sweeping changes will be made to charter school funding

Wolf proposed a reduction in the obligatory payments school districts must make when one of their students decides to attend a charter school, which would save districts $280 million annually, according to the governor. “Our charter school system is in desperate need of reform,” Wolf said in a sharp rebuke of the charter school system. “It’s time to close the loopholes. It’s time to establish real standards, and it’s time to level the playing field.”

2. Revisiting previous proposals.

The Wolf administration wants the state to increase basic education spending by $100 million and special education by $25 million. He wants all school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, shifting 22,000 students who attend half-day programs into full days. He wants budgets on the whole for Pre-K to be increased by $30 million, most of which will be allocated to the state-run Pre-K Counts program. Finally, he proposed an increase in the state’s minimum teaching salary from $18,500 to $45,000, impacting 3,000 teachers. 

3. Higher minimum wage is high on the agenda

Wolf’s government has always championed higher minimum wages but has been met with stiff resistance. The governor wants to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 per hour on a gradual basis. The current minimum wage is $7.25, which he proposes should be increased to $12 this July and every consecutive year by $0.50 until reaching $15 in 2026.

Another issue the governor addressed was gun reform, which is unusual for a budget speech. Gov. Wolf made an impassioned plea for the state to take gun laws more seriously. “The steps I’m proposing are supported by the evidence and supported by the vast majority of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “To let another session go by without action would be a failure of imagination that will cost lives.”

 

To learn more, visit:

https://www.governor.pa.gov/

http://www.repsaylor.com/

 

Spotlight On: Christopher Lam, Partner, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Spotlight On: Christopher Lam, Partner, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read February 2020 — Charlotte’s growth continues to attract a gamut of industries and talent into the region. As a result, the legal needs of businesses are evolving along with the diversification of the local economy, expanding the opportunities for legal professionals in the Queen City. Charlotte’s cost of living and sophisticated legal services rival the likes of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings Partner Christopher Lam told Invest: Charlotte. The business diversity is driving the need for expertise in compliance and data privacy. Additionally, there is a great emphasis to provide access to justice to all residents via pro bono legal services or by committing financial resources to community agencies in the region, Lam said. 

Q: How has the legal landscape changed with so much economic growth in the region?

A: From a legal perspective, a lot of firms from outside North Carolina decided to set up an office here, and not all of those have remained. According to American Lawyer, however, there are 59 law firms with a Charlotte office that are not headquartered here. This remains a very popular place to be for lawyers and that’s because of the way our business community has diversified.

We are known as a banking and financial services hub, and while this is still a key part of our economy, we are so much more than that, with energy, manufacturing, fintech and other sectors emerging. That diversification is good for us as lawyers too, as it better equips us to weather a potential downturn. For example, our firm has experts in multiple practice areas and industries, which allows us to serve clients with those needs and protects us against a downturn in one or two particular sectors.

Q: How have the legal needs of companies evolved as new technologies and developments emerge?

A: The core legal needs for businesses have largely remained the same – corporate, employment, litigation, real estate. But with new regulations, there is a greater need for expertise in compliance, specifically in data privacy, and particularly with new regulations such as GDPR and CCPA going into effect. That impacts almost every company. At Bradley, we have two of only a handful of lawyers in the country who are board-certified privacy lawyers, and we have an additional deep bench of lawyers who are CIPP-US certified. We have been well-positioned to help companies navigate these new regulations. 

Q: How do you think the private sector and public officials must work together to keep growth sustainable?

A: Charlotte has a proud legacy of business leadership in issues of community development and public policy. Our business leaders have long been champions of these initiatives and we certainly think we at Bradley are a part of that effort. It is important as corporate citizens that we recognize that the better we make our community as a whole, the better it is for everyone.

Q: How does the Charlotte legal market compare with other markets such as Chicago or New York?

A: Those cities are larger and more diverse and sometimes those legal markets can seem more attractive, whether it be a higher salary or more opportunities. In Charlotte, however, because of the diversity of the business community, we have sophisticated legal services here to rival the likes of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. We also have a cost of living that is more advantageous, meaning lawyers can have great opportunities with a lower cost of living. That’s the best of both worlds.

Q: What are the main challenges facing the Charlotte market today?

A: Most of the 5,500 lawyers in Mecklenburg County are not working in big firms or representing large companies. And there are thousands of residents in the broader Charlotte community who have legal needs but cannot afford legal services. As current president of the Mecklenburg County Bar, my time spent working with groups like the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has emphasized that the greatest challenge for lawyers here is our responsibility to ensure there is access to justice for all. We have a professional obligation to do so. We can do this in a couple primary ways – providing pro bono legal services ourselves or committing our financial resources to the agencies doing the heavy lifting every day. That issue is not unique to Charlotte, but as lawyers we have a particular responsibility to help ensure there is access to justice. I am very proud to say our lawyers at Bradley live into that. As but one example, we have a partnership with the Bank of America legal department through which we work with Safe Alliance to represent clients who need domestic violence protective orders. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: https://www.bradley.com/

Face Off: The growth of Gaston County

Face Off: The growth of Gaston County

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — In the last few years, Gaston County, located an hour away from the Queen City, has greatly benefited from the activity happening in Mecklenburg County. As a result, Gaston County, home to cities like Gastonia and Mount Holly, is experiencing growth in its residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Its proximity to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and available land make it a suitable place for businesses and new residents to settle in and still tap into the energy of nearby Charlotte. In an interview with Invest: Charlotte, city of Gastonia Mayor Walker E. Reid and Mount Holly Mayor Bryan Hough talk about how their perspective cities are adapting to the growth, changes in infrastructure, and their vision for their cities moving forward. 

 

What areas are witnessing growth in your cities?

 

Walker E. Reid: Residential is growing in the southeast part of the city. It is an area we invested in a while back in hopes of developing it. As we speak, 411 single-family homes are being built within Nolen Farm. Also, we are going to bolster the zone’s water infrastructure and improve the sewage system. Eastridge Mall is in the process of being revitalized as well. For this project, some investors are willing to inject between $100 million and $150 million. It will include apartments and an aquatic center. We are working on the details of traffic patterns in and out of the mall. We are also working with the Transportation Commission to get the Silverline light rail into Gaston County.

 

Bryan Hough: We are one of the closest cities to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Our proximity to the airport provides an opportunity for travelers and professionals to see Mount Holly and take an interest in the city. They’ll see that we have a small town atmosphere but can take advantage of a large place like Charlotte and the amenities they provide. The exposure the airport provides is good for job growth and opportunities for commercial growth. For 2020, we expect to see more investment coming to Mount Holly. We are going to see additional growth in both residential and commercial. We also plan to expand the greenway system. Our arts community has been blossoming and we expect it to continue to grow. 

Walker E. Reid

How is the local infrastructure dealing with the region’s growth?

 

Reid: The county was traditionally and primarily focused on the textile industry. When those businesses and jobs were lost, we had to adapt to find our next business niche, which turned out to be infrastructure. Now, we sell water to municipalities in Gaston County as well as in Clover, South Carolina. We also provide water, sewage and electricity services. The Gastonia Technology Park is a great testament to our diversification efforts. Businesses from all over the world have come to Gaston County to capitalize on this park. It has 24-hour uninterrupted power. We have a qualified workforce, training facilities and the infrastructure to assist new businesses looking to set up shop in Gastonia.

 

Hough: “Mount Holly, located in Gaston County, is home to 16,000 residents. In the past year, we have seen a lot of investor interest and development in Mount Holly. Investors in the manufacturing and distribution sectors are interested in development opportunities. We have a new hotel being built on the edge of our city, off of Interstate 85, which is connected to Charlotte, and is 10 minutes away from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Our economic development department created a strategic vision plan based on significant economic input that highlights the attributes of Mount Holly, and provides investment information for businesses that want to bring their operations to the area. We work with the Gaston County Economic Development Commission to attract and retain large commercial companies. We want to make investment information accessible to investors.  

Bryan Hough

As mayor, where do you see your city heading in the future?

 

Reid: We have set some very aggressive goals related to our infrastructure, healthy communities, good government, economic vitality, our community identity, and for the safety of our community. In the coming years, we will continue to build on our momentum of growth and entrepreneurship. We also must continue to bring everyone to the table because we are a diverse city. One other goal that I would like to see the city work toward is for more diversity and inclusion. I want to put more emphasis on getting our residents from different cultures and different age groups involved in our city’s future – to build a sense of belonging and bring everyone together. Let’s hear more and different voices. I want the city of Gastonia to become the best city we can possibly be. Considering we are between Charlotte and Atlanta, we have a lot to offer.

 

Hough: Quality of life has been a key focus for the city. We want to be connected to the Catawba River via a greenway system that we are developing. We will have around 9 miles of greenway development near the river and 200 acres have been preserved for eco-tourism, such as canoeing and kayaking. We will have a bridge near the Dutchman’s Creek greenway area that will help with development near the river. The greenway system will stretch from I-85 to Highway 16 once it is completed. Mount Holly is home to very active residents who like to swim, bike and kayak. We want to connect with nature, which is part of our logo. That is our niche in the Charlotte Metro Area.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.cityofgastonia.com/

https://www.mtholly.us/

Face Off: Osceola County Cities Sharpening Economic Growth Plans

Face Off: Osceola County Cities Sharpening Economic Growth Plans

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — Amid the growth in Orlando’s economy and population, local cities are emphasizing the unique characteristics of their respective business communities. The city of Kissimmee is taking advantage of its aviation industry, while the city of St. Cloud is looking to expand its experiential and entertainment retail offer. The Invest: team spoke with Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard, economic development director at the city of Kissimmee, and Antranette Forbes, St. Cloud’s economic development manager, about their efforts to grow their economies while taking care of their existing businesses. 

What are the key industries for the city’s economy?

Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard: Aviation is a growing industry in Kissimmee, as the city owns a general aviation airport, Kissimmee Gateway Airport. This airport is predominately the airport of choice for corporate jets or private plane owners arriving to go to the Orange County Convention Center or a Central Florida theme park. Kissimmee Gateway Airport is also a relief airport for Orlando International (OIA), providing services for noncompatible OIA uses.  Additionally, understanding the value of high-wage aviation jobs, the city launched its Aerospace Advancement Initiative to attract companies to our airport. A recent Florida Department of Transportation study showed our airport yields a direct annual economic impact of $190 million. In the last seven years, the airport has grown by over 300 jobs.

Another growing field in Kissimmee is the medical sector. The city of Kissimmee is home to two strong, growing hospitals, AdventHeath-Kissimmee and Osceola Regional Medical Center. Combined, these hospitals have invested over $300 million in campus expansions or are growing their service lines. To capitalize on that growth, the city launched its Kissimmee Medical Arts District, providing economic development incentives specifically to attract more physicians and medical companies to the area. When new medical companies enter the market, they provide new job opportunities, but it also results in more medical services available to residents. It’s a win-win.   

Antranette Forbes: Retail and professional services are our key industries. In fact, 35% of our business is service-oriented. In the medical industry, St. Cloud Regional Medical Center is our largest nongovernmental employer. They have over 500 employees and the majority are in medical or medical-related professions. We also have a large population of dentists. From a business recruitment standpoint, that is a great opportunity for medical device providers, assisted living facilities and other related companies.

We are focusing on diversifying our retail footprint. We are looking to attract experiential and entertainment retail. We have places to shop and eat, and now we are focusing on providing options to play. We also need more diversity in our industrial sector. While we may not have a high amount of space to do industrial, we do have talent who can perform in the sector.

How do you support the interests of residents, while focusing on expanding the city’s business community?

Ortiz Kirkegard: Meeting the needs of our residents is always at the forefront of economic development. Programs are designed to attract companies that provide high-value, high-wage jobs to the community. As our economic development program has evolved, so have the job opportunities, and that helps advance our household income levels. Additionally, the evolution of the program has worked toward diversifying our economy by no longer being solely tourism centric with jobs circling retail and hospitality. Although tourism will always be at the heart of Central Florida, diversifying industries increases our economic resilience.  

Forbes: We are implementing numerous strategies to diversify our economy. We have over 1,300 registered businesses in St. Cloud. Over 35 percent of those are home-based businesses. These types of businesses are an important contributor to our economy. These “mom and pop” types of companies are a major focus for us. We are looking to move them out of their homes and into office or storefront space. By helping them to reach that next level, these are the businesses that will be hiring more employees and supporting our growth.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

City of Kissimmee: https://www.kissimmee.org/government/economic-development/economic-development-office 

City of St. Cloud: http://stcloud.org/926/Economic-Development 

Survey highlights Camden’s economic progress

Survey highlights Camden’s economic progress

By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — What once was the poorest city in the nation is now showing significant advances as a result of its renaissance efforts. Camden City is showing positive trends in key economic areas, according to a recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau,  using data derived from the American Community Survey (ACS).   

 

The survey data showed significant improvements in areas such as poverty, educational attainment, employment and unemployment. 

“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but in findings like these we are seeing the very real snowballing effect of progressive policies put into place to better the lives of residents in the City,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr in a press release.

The surge in educational attainment among 18-24-year olds is one of the significant trends Camden has seen during the last decade. The most recent estimate shows the population achieving high school or higher levels of education is now at 83.3 percent. From 2006 to 2010, approximately 68 percent of young adults in the city had graduated high school, earned their G.E.D., attended some college, or received an associate’s, bachelor’s or advanced degree. 

“Ensuring all of our students and families are attaining a quality education and gaining access to advanced educational opportunities is our objective. This report underscores the progress being made in the classroom and throughout our district,” Superintendent Katrina McCombs said in a press release.

The survey also showed that the number of residents employed has increased by more than 2,500 and the number of unemployed residents dropped from over 7,700 to less than 3,900.  According to city data, the unemployment rate over the five years ending in 2018 was 12.6%, which represents a big decline from the 24.4 percent reported from 2009 to 2013.   

Camden’s “eds and meds” sector, which employs almost 40% of the Camden workforce, has also been key to the city’s revitalization. Over $1 billion has been invested in the “eds and meds” sector, with an additional $175 million planned. Camden is home to five eds and meds institutions, leading research and innovative efforts throughout the region and the national and international community. 

To support local businesses and residents, workforce initiatives like private initiative Camden Works, launched in 2019, have been forged to ensure Camden continues its growth path. The employment training and placement program is designed to leverage resources from local entities to provide training, education and placement.

“Unparalleled collaboration and a holistic approach to revitalization is resulting in real progress in Camden,” said Camden Mayor Francisco Moran in a press release. “The data indicates that Camden is making substantial gains as it relates to reducing poverty, improving academic outcomes and increasing employment prospects. This kind of sustained progress has not been witnessed in decades.  These are all positive signs for our residents and indicators that the quality of life continues to improve.” 

The ACS produces estimates of selected population characteristics for one- and five-year periods. Five-year estimates include data aggregated over a 60-month period and attempt to show the characteristics of the city over that entire stretch.  

To learn more, visit:

https://data.census.gov 

 

Public-Private Partners Devise Future of Queen City

Public-Private Partners Devise Future of Queen City

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read January 2020In the last decade, Charlotte rose from the devastating effects of the Great Recession to become the 16th-most populous city in the United States. The Queen City has experienced continuous years of growth thanks to the diversification of its economy, its budding headquarters relocation culture, steady commercial and residential development, and its “cool” appeal favored by the young workforce moving to Charlotte and its surrounding region. As the city prepares for another decade of evolution, growth, and development, public and private partners have their eyes set on the year 2040. Several complementary plans are underway that will help guide the future of Center City, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County for the next 20 years.

Spearheaded by nonprofit Charlotte Center City Partners, in partnership with the city and county, the “ALL IN 2040” plan aims to establish a new blueprint for the growth and development of Center City, an area that encompasses Uptown and South End. Simultaneously, the city of Charlotte is working on its 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which will guide the growth of Charlotte overall, while Mecklenburg County rewrites its Park and Recreation master plan.

Michael Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said the Queen City has a strong legacy of careful planning for long-term development. “We’ve had four decades of deliberate planning and this decade has really defined Charlotte,” Smith told Invest: Charlotte. “Charlotte has launched a new, renewed Center City vision for 2040, called the ‘ALL IN’ plan. This is a great opportunity for Charlotte to carry on its legacy of planning. This is a 50-year tradition of creating these blueprints, each time looking several decades ahead, but renewing that vision every 10 years. This provides us with an opportunity to listen to our community, and to bring subject-matter experts in to help us understand some of the best practices around the world,” he said.

 

Much of the successful growth and development in Charlotte that occurred in the past decade was a result of strong public-private partnerships, which the “ALL IN 2040” plan will continue to develop and strengthen. “The plans and projects are co-created and co-owned with the private sector. In Charlotte over the last 50 years, we’ve had the public sector making transformative, shaping, stimulating investments in infrastructure, and the private sector responding in a collaborative way,” Smith said.

 

Infrastructure will be a strong focus of the “ALL IN 2040” plan, as well as the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan. “With the growth we have, we know we have to invest in transportation,” Smith said. Both plans account for major transit expansions to the city’s rapid bus transit and light rail systems. “All that infrastructure development is really needed as the city is booming with construction on the residential, office and hospitality fronts. Right now, there are almost 2.2 million square feet of office space under construction. Of that, there are about 700,000 square feet in South End, and more in Uptown. This is not speculative; there is a lot of pre-leased space in South End. As a matter of fact, about 90% of what’s under construction is pre-leased. It provides us with great confidence,” he said.

 

The “ALL IN 2040” plan and similar city and county efforts are meant to complement one another. Throughout 2020, residents are encouraged to attend public engagement sessions where they can give their input regarding the future of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. 

By the end of the process, a final draft will be created that will eventually head to the city council for approval and implementation.

 

To learn more, visit:

https://www.charlottecentercity.org 

https://www.allin2040.com/plan

Spotlight On: Liz Babson, Director, Charlotte Department of Transportation

Spotlight On: Liz Babson, Director, Charlotte Department of Transportation

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read November 2019 — As Charlotte continues to grow, the Department of Transportation is looking at ways to improve and innovate its transportation system. The department has been keen on leveraging capital investment with private development to build a safe transportation network for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Safety is a top priority for the department heading into 2020, said Liz Babson, director of the Department of Transportation, in an interview with Invest: Charlotte.    

How has Charlotte’s transportation system kept up with economic growth in the past decade?

 

“Charlotte, like other major cities, is experiencing economic growth and is seeing the effects of that in its transportation system. We have seen congestion increase throughout the community. The city must look at multiple ways to solve and manage its transportation system. We put a lot of investment in transit and other transportation improvements and continue to manage  congestion. In the last decade, we have seen a shift in the way we look at transportation investment throughout the city, not just on the transit side but making sure we are connecting our networks, such as our walkways and bikeways, and giving people a choice when they travel throughout the city. We are making a major shift from traditional roadway projects and single occupancy vehicles.”  

 

What is the state of the transportation system in Charlotte?

 

“In the last few years, the state legislature was changed to reprioritize transportation investment throughout North Carolina. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of investment at the state level that is coming to Charlotte. Some $3.2 billion in state transportation investment is earmarked for this city. Those are projects that will improve the freeway systems throughout North Carolina. As your capacity increases in those facilities, it gives people more travel options to use Charlotte’s surface streets for local, short trips. We then have more capacity at the surface street level to improve the transportation system for cyclists and pedestrians.”  

 

How is the Department of Transportation working with the private sector to speed up projects in Charlotte?

 

“We work to find ways to align our capital investment to where we know new development or redevelopment is happening. The Camp North End project north of Uptown and the River District are good examples where we anticipated the type of development and redevelopment we want to see happen and set aside capital investment dollars to partner up with investors and developers. It allows us to see projects developed quicker. The challenge is finding equitable and balanced ways to do that. We have always tried to be strategic with our partnerships; sometimes the private side is faster and more efficient.”    

 

How is the Department of Transportation working with the community as Charlotte continues to grow?

 

“We are developing our 2040 Comprehensive Plan. We are engaging the community, elected officials and private partners in a way that we have not done before to look at how we want to grow as a community and how we will do that. We are engaging the community as we have those conversations, so they can understand the challenges and how we can work together as we head into the future. We are having those tough conversations in a meaningful way. This is an important undertaking for the city. It will be transformational for the city from an organizational structure and how we do our work and engage the community.” 

 

How is the Department of Transportation using technology to improve transit operations?

 

“We have close to 850 traffic signals and close to 350 miles of fibers that communicate with 90% of those signals. From one central location, we can change signal timing for the entire city. That fiber infrastructure also manages our traffic camera system, which is comprised of around 450 cameras located throughout the city. It’s a shared system. We work very closely with the police and fire departments. Together we can make on the spot decisions that improve emergency response times and help get the roads cleared faster when there are bigger problems. We have the infrastructure in place to test and implement new smart traffic technologies. We are looking at the possibility of leveraging the connected traffic system with people’s smartphones to share information from the traffic signal operations with pedestrians who want to know when the bus is coming or commuters who want to know when the traffic lights will change. Those are the kinds of things we are starting to look at.”  

 

What are the Department of Transportation’s priorities heading into 2020?

 

“We are working to do road projects that are transformational, as well as small, safety improvements to expand our safe and efficient transportation system for our cyclists and pedestrians. We are a Vision Zero city and are working toward no deaths or serious injuries on our streets by 2030. The goal allows us to take a data-driven approach when it comes to capital investments. We are continuously looking for opportunities to leverage private development with capital investment to build a safe transportation network. There is a real intentional focus to improve the safety of our cyclists and pedestrians.”  

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: https://charlottenc.gov/Transportation/