The Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce is taking a stand against the county’s approved $17 million plan to renovate the hospital on Gamble Drive and move several offices there.
The Chamber’s Board of Directors, City Council members and concerned citizens will gather on Tuesday to discuss their opposition toward the county commissioners’ decision.
Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce president Ken Kindley said resident Pris Mauney was the first to express her concerns to him. Since then, a group of approximately 15 residents has joined forces to become “Citizens for Smart Spending.”
“We’ve spoken with concerned citizens, DDA, the Chamber, merchants and building owners, and there’s a lot of concern that we need to follow suit like other surrounding towns such as Salisbury, Mooresville and Statesville, to not just maintain but to build,” Kindley said. “Other cities, such as Charlotte, are building new baseball stadiums, basketball arenas, football stadiums, restaurants, condominiums and retail establishments in their downtown area in order to revitalize their downtown. Why can’t we do the same?”
The Times-News previously reported on the commissioners’ decision to move forward with the $17 million hospital renovation in June, debated during the workshops to establish the 2014-2105 fiscal year budget. The discussion has been going on for several years. The budget was passed 3-2 with commissioners James Klein and Carroll Mitchem in opposition. For Klein, the decision to move forward this coming year with the hospital was somewhat unsettling.
“While I think it’s inevitable that the county offices will end up there, and I don’t have a problem with that, we don’t have an impetus from any outside agency to tell us that we need to do it this coming year,” Klein said at the June 17 meeting. “We’ve signed up for an $18 million debt, which I find to be burdensome for future commissions and for the taxpayers at some point in the future, and that is unfortunate.”
While the county’s research points toward a renovation of the old hospital being more effective than expanding a facility or creating a new facility downtown, Kindley believes otherwise.
“A few years ago, I think they did a study where they found that in order to build a new building, it would actually be more expensive for it to go downtown, but things change, and things become available that were not once available,” he said. “We just feel like in the long run, it will be better to invest in our downtown. Lincolnton is the only municipality in the entire county of Lincoln.
“Land is available on Pine Street and at the former location of the Iverness Hotel,” he said. “This lot currently serves as a public parking lot. For $17 million, a multi-use facility could be built that would house multiple county departments. Also, what does the county plan on doing with the former jail property?”
Although the Board of Commissioners will ultimately have the final decision, chairman Alex Patton said that, as of Sunday night, neither he nor his fellow commissioners knew of the special called meeting.
“We’re trying to prepare for the future in the most cost-effective way possible,” he said. “It’s frustrating that everyone wants us to stop now when we’ve been talking about this move for years.”
In addition to having several county offices in a central location, Patton believes the additional space for future expansion and parking will greatly benefit the county. He added that, even if the offices did remain downtown, the county would still be left with the mostly vacant hospital facility. While some citizens have countered that the hospital could be demolished so the property could be sold, Patton said that even bulldozing the building would cost the county a few million dollars.
“Like I told Ken Kindley and the Chamber, that train has left the station,” he said.
The Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce will host the special called board meeting on Tuesday at 8 a.m. at their office on Main Street in Lincolnton.