Mixed reactions on using sales tax to pay for Downtown South project

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Before we even start talking about competing on a soccer field on the now barren piece of land at the corner of I-40 and South Saunders Street, there is a competition going on right now for the public money to build a massive new gateway to downtown Raleigh.

RELATED: $1.9B investment could bring soccer stadium, hotels, shopping to downtown Raleigh

It's a game with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.

On the streets of downtown Raleigh, there was no shortage of opinions about the ambitions of Downtown South.

Janet Oesterling called the design "obnoxious and out of place" while newer residents like Elicha Varner called it "beautiful and magnificent."

At the unveiling of the 20,000 seat soccer stadium project, that would be surrounded by over a million and a half square feet of office space, hotel rooms, apartments, plus lots of retail and restaurants, North Carolina Football Club owner Steve Malik and mega-developer John Kane made the case that the only viable way to build the project is to include a stadium, not just for soccer, but concerts, festivals, and graduations.

A stadium paid for by $330 million in public sales tax dollars.

"We feel like this is the appropriate ask and it's the appropriate place to fund this because we're giving back lots of things," Kane said. "Our investment is gonna give back to the city and the county and the citizens."

The developers want a share of the Raleigh and Wake County hospitality tax. It's the extra six percent you pay at on local hotel bills and one percent on restaurant and bar tabs.

They're requesting $11 million a year for the next 30 years -- adding up the $330 million stadium price tag.

"If they're going to increase the cost of hotel and beverages and all that then that will lead to another cycle of people not wanting to come here because it costs too much," Oesterling declared.

Raleigh resident Wade Lynn wondered if the use of public money sent the wrong message about local government priorities.

"I'm not ok with that. But if you look around, you got people sleeping in the streets. So why don't they put some money to help some of these homeless," Lynn said.

It's not a sure thing.

The project joins several others vying for a piece of Wake County's Medium Projects Fund. $42 million total is at stake this year. The process begins in late fall or early winter.

Over dinner and drinks on Fayetteville Street with downtown Raleigh residents James Cannon and Andrew Sullivan, there was concern over the prospects of gentrification pushing out poorer residents and older businesses but hope that the project would bring greater prosperity citywide.

"I think that's definitely what taxes and stuff are for; for projects like this that really do create the final stages of the growth that we've seen," Cannon said.

Sullivan added, "I'm not really aware of the hospitality tax but we dine downtown frequently and I'm happy to support building something like that if it's going to better the state."

Project planners insist Downtown South will drive economic developments not just in this part of the city but the county and the state.

Now the clock is ticking on financing.

Developers are calling on citizens who support this project to call and email their city councilors and county commissioners -- telling them to get on board with the sales tax piece of the project.
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