Charlotte Observer

TIF Turns Gaston Into River City

Tax Increment Financing has turned Gaston County cities and towns into the real life example of the movie version, “The Music Man”:

A con artist, “Professor” Harold Hill, comes to a small Iowa town in the early 1900s. He convinces the town that it needs a marching band, taking orders for the necessary instruments and uniforms. He also sells music lessons in advance, concealing the fact that he cannot read or play a note of music. In the process Professor Hill galvanizes the town out of its torpor and falls in love with the local librarian/music teacher. The movie is the original setting for “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You.”

We’ve got Trouble… Right here in River City…


An article in the Charlotte Oberserver reports that County manager, Jan Winters has bought into “Big Plan” Jim Palenick’s endorsement of the Big League Dreams program. Where did $23,000 to “study” the project come from? Another tap into the Tourism funds from the hotel/motel tax?  


Another trip down the route of issuing municipal bonds without voter approval.

Isn’t “Big Plan” the same guy who questioned the Whitewater Park investment by Gaston area communities? Didn’t Mr. Winters have a dickens of a time dealing with the fallout of the failed Equestrian Center and county finances.

So, what are the differences?

Big League Dreams is a for-profit development firm that primarily builds baseball fields with the target area’s local money, and takes 50% of the profits (if there are any). The project is being sold throughout the United States as a way for cash-strapped communities to have “world class” athletic facilities.  

The “target communities” are generally areas that have small parks and recreation budgets — if any at all –, are in areas of unrealized potential — along major highways/transportation corridors, and have attention starved local politicos. Several communities that bought into this project have already had to raise entrance fees — yes, parking/viewing — to meet the for-profit operating budget. Captured events, such as Legion Baseball, the Grizzlies, and any planned event, will have to charge an arm-and-a-leg to meet breakeven points. What guarantees are made by Big League Dreams if the community couldn’t attract major regional or national events?


This particular group is asking — demanding, actually (by the business model) — that the target community do the local site research, commit to the fund the construction, and guarantee the construction loan. Then they operate the facilities, and “split” the profits of the facility. The big kicker is that they MUST be able to sell alcohol in their parks. So in essence, the City (and County) in this scheme, want to get a piece of the alcohol sales and profit off of youth sports.

The passage of the Tax Increment Finance law in 2004, has allowed the traveling saleman to flood North Carolina communities with big visions and bigger ideas.  Jim “Big Plan” Palenick and Big League Dreams blew in with this passage.

The US National Whitewater Center is a one-of-a-kind, locally volunteer-driven, non-profit organization. It is a planned out, unique destination place that has not yet been duplicated. Significant private investment was pledged and committed PRIOR to public investment.

The community investment in the USNWC is guaranteed by the public investment of tax dollars, which will be tapped this fiscal year, and probably for the next two consecutive years. Is it a lot of money?

In our opinion, sure, but at the same time it is less than the $18 million proposed for the Baseball fields. It is less than the proposed $12.5 million for downtown Gastonia’s “renovation”.  For the USNWC, a total of $2.5 million was invested by the Gaston communities (Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly) in the $35 million project.

Was there, or is there, a payback from the Whitewater Center? This past summer, the first year of operation, over 50% of the staff were from Gaston County. Primarly college students and young adults. Several events attracted a world-wide audience and visitors, many of whom stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at exit #27. The center attracted over 400,000 visitors — yes, free, mostly curiousity visitors, many more than the 300,000 anticipated.  

So far, the “Big Plan” Jim Palenick  public endorsement tally is over $30 million. We have to ask, what is next ?

This traveling salesman scores bigtime in Gaston County. “Big Plan” also scored in Bay City, Michigan and Rio Rancho, New Mexico prior to blowing into Gastonia.  

$2 Billion in construction and payrolls and 14,000 jobs projected for Montcross by 2035

Bill Monroe of WGM Design of Charlotte addressed a crowded Belmont Chamber of Commerce function at The Haid on the campus of Belmont Abbey College tonight.

Monroe shared the vision and master plan of the Montcross project that is expected to cost over a billion dollars to construct and provide jobs for 14,000 people, with an additional economic impact of almost $1 billion by 2035. Steelwood Solutions assisted with the impact study of the overall project.


The meeting was attended by local politicians, real estate agents, small business owners, homeowners, and “other interested parties” – namely four members of the BFP editorial staff.

The Abbey, represented by Dr. Thierfelder, Abbott Placid, Monte Monteleone, and  the college development staff welcomed the visitors and updated everyone on the recent successes of the College. Dr. Thierfelder reported that the Abbey enrollment had exceeded 1,300 students this school year. Applications for the coming year will push enrollment up to 1,600 for the fall of 2008. The goal of the college is to reach a maximum enrollment of 2,500 students in the next twenty years.

bill-thierfelder.jpg     abbot-placid-solari.jpg

Monroe reviewed the 17-year history of WGM Design’s relationship with the Abbey, by noting that the master plan has continually changed and evolved over the years. The partnership with the Stowe-Pharr-Parkdale was reviewed and how the Montcross Development came to be known.

He described each parcel of the plan in pretty good detail.


Yes, Cracker Barrel is interested. Recent changes in Cracker Barrel management have caused the operation to seek the property behind the Bi-Lo instead of next to the Hampton Inn. A medical office complex is planned for that parcel, explained Monroe. But there have been managerial changes so the Abbey is just waiting to see what they will decide to pursue.

Many “national chain restaurants” have inquired about the strip of land next to Nyoshi back toward the Wal-Mart. From the drawings, it appears that 5, maybe 6 parcels for restaurants are available in this strip. One restaurant chain was insisting on a parcel along Wilkinson Boulevard, next to the Handy Lube. However, that would involve rezoning the property from Business Campus to Highway Business. One of the main battlefronts during the Wal-Mart “debate” was the zoning ordinances and ultimate process of rezoning that was predicted.

Looks like this prediction will be coming to fruition in the coming months. Monroe commented that they would be talking to city officials in the near future about this rezoning application.

Monroe gave a polite tip of the hat to former council member, Becky Burch (who wasn’t present) by confirming that a cafeteria chain had inquired about the old Harris-Teeter section of the Abbey Plaza. That confirmation allowed a fist-in-the-air celebration by none other than Dot Martin, wife of council member Charlie Martin. Seems that someone’s agendas are going to be completed. Monroe pointed out that nothing has been finalized.

Rose’s was discussed briefly. Apparently Rose’s renewed their lease and business has actually increased since Wal-Mart’s opening. Monroe described that Rose’s prices are lower than Wal-Mart’s and that has led to a resurging sales tally for the retail anchor in Abbey Plaza.


Dunkin’ Donuts will be opening a section in the Exxon structure on the corner of Wilkinson and Park. Not a stand alone building.

He discussed the north section of the plan – the Parkdale section – the old Acme Mill village and Woodlawn Avenue area will become home to two and three story office complexes. The first is scheduled to have plans presented to city council in the first quarter of the New Year. Guess that means no park in North Belmont after all.

The far western section, the Pharr-owned area (just east of “The Slide”) will become a site for multi-family (apartments) and another nearby section needs to be re-designed after it was revealed that some of the land was once used for a landfill. Gee, anyone who has lived here for more than a few years could’ve told you what was in that area before you made pretty drawings of houses.

The section of Stowe land just west of The Oaks will house 4 and 5 story office buildings similar to the Ballantyne project and will be visible from I-85. So long green forested interstate buffers.


Land to the Northeast of the expanded campus will become a medical park, a senior retirement community of apartments and assisted living centers. The final jewel in the plan is a section at exit #27 of 4 story office buildings. This section alone will draw $400,000,000 of investment and develop about 7,000 jobs. Monroe explained that developers and the Abbey will build a road that would traverse the area from Hwy 273 to Belmont-Mt. Holly Road. He hinted that the Gaston County Economic Development Commission could also find funding for this road.

Monroe entertained several questions from the audience. Deposed council member, Irl Dixon was concerned over the A&W property and the Nyoshi/Burger King building. Yum! Brands, Inc. holds a long-term lease of the former Long John Silver/A&W building and is still paying rent to the Benedictines.

Sindy Maxwell of the Belmont Planning & Zoning Board asked about the land area within the Belmont City limits. All but the western section in McAdenville and a small 40-acre section in Mt. Holly below the Mt. Holly water tower, Monroe responded.

He noted that one additional small strip of land east of the Arby’s in Belmont toward the river would be used for small “incubator” types of office structures. There is space for about ten small buildings in this section.

A homeowner living near the now-closed Stowe Spinning Mill was concerned about what would be replacing the Spinning Mill. Monroe said that section was not part of the project and he didn’t know what was planned.

Overall, it was a good presentation, factual and to the point. Reporters for the Gazette, Observer and Banner were represented so we should be reading their take of the meeting in a day or so…These folks were seen sidling up to the principals after the meeting concluded, so we met in the parking lot to share notes. Thought about meeting at the Holy Grounds coffee shop, “serving Starbucks products”, as Mr. Monroe described, but decided that our identities were more important than hob-knobing.

Congratulations to Ted Hall and the Belmont Chamber of Commerce for exceeding their goal of making it to 300 memberships for 2008. They will have 304, and as Chamber Board Chair Paul Lowrance noted, “the fastest growing Chamber in the Southeast”.

Giving to charities? Do some checking first

It is important that you know to whom you are donating your hard-earned money when giving to charitable organizations.


This past Sunday, the Charlotte Observer ran an article by Amy Baldwin highlighting the importance of checking out the organization before you write them a check — or give cash. We have republished the article below:


During the holidays as consumers dash to shopping malls, charities ramp up their fundraising efforts. Eighty percent of charitable funds are raised in November and December, according to the Better Business Bureau.

How do you know if a charity is using your money wisely? How can you check out a group before contributing?

Do some research (it’s easy, especially online) and use some common sense (if a group gives you the hard sell to give on the spot, consider it a red flag). A quick check of the Better Business Bureau Web site, for example, will indicate if a charity — national or local — is in good standing.

To start, call the charity and ask what it does with the funds it raises and how much goes to programs versus overhead. If you are approached in person, ask the solicitor your questions, and ask for promotional materials you can look over at home. Any reputable organization should be ready and happy to provide answers. If not, you have reason to be wary.

Helpful places online: and the BBB’s site, publishes the federal tax returns (called the Form 990) for thousands of charities. While a charity doesn’t have to pay taxes, it still must file a return with the IRS. And a 990 contains a lot of information, including total contributions and expenses, assets and liabilities and compensation of officers.

Some charities provide links to their 990s and other information on their Web sites. United Way of America and the American Red Cross, for example, have their 990s, annual reports and audited financial statements online (, One of the BBB’s standards for accrediting charities calls for organizations to provide this information online.

BBB’s Reliability Reports

The BBB keeps what it calls reliability reports on thousands of national and local charitable organizations. In fact, it has been evaluating charities longer than it has businesses — since the 1920s versus 1950s, said Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the BBB of Southern Piedmont.

To be a BBB-accredited charity, the organization must meet 20 standards covering fundraising, finances, governance and oversight. For example, a charity must spend 65 percent of its annual budget on its program. The remaining expenses can be for administrative, overhead and fundraising costs.

Another requirement: A charity must take several steps to ensure donors’ privacy, a standard that the BBB says Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry, whose mission is to help people out of financial crises, failed. That was news to Doug Hartjes, the group’s development officer. He said the BBB’s information was out of date.

“We cover all that in our privacy statement online. We don’t share our donors’ information with other agencies,” he said. Crisis Assistance does have a privacy policy statement online ( Hartjes said he would follow up with the BBB to see how or if his organization really fell short.

Likewise, the Charlotte chapter of the Red Cross says the BBB has old and incorrect information and that it is incorrect in saying the organization fails at five standards. In both cases — the Red Cross and Crisis Assistance — the BBB says it is an agency’s responsibility to update it with current information. The BBB sends a letter to an organization letting it know that it fails to meet standards, so there’s no reason for it to not know that, Bartholomy said.

The BBB’s online reports contain pie charts breaking down expenses. They also have the charity’s contact and leadership information, staff size and purpose. The BBB bases its reports on information from charities, namely 990s, and internal and external audits. If a charity doesn’t respond, the BBB says so on its site.

About 30 percent of local charities have not responded, according to a recent news release from the BBB of Southern Piedmont. That includes big names such as the Charlotte command of the Salvation Army and the Charlotte chapter of Make-A-Wish, both of which say they never got the packet of materials the BBB says it sent.

Major Todd Smith of the Salvation Army and Selena Rogers, president of Make-A-Wish, said they question the validity of the BBB’s entire database on charities. Smith said the BBB sent its request to its old address, which the group left 18 months ago. Rogers added that had her organization would have had no reason to ignore the BBB, especially since some of its standards (80 percent of expenses must be program related, for example) are higher.

Bartholomy said the BBB tries to reach charities three times before saying that they did not respond. In the case of the Salvation Army, the group did not respond to years of previous efforts by the BBB, well before its move, he said. BBB has reached out to Make-A-Wish for several years as well, he said.

The BBB doesn’t want to give a charity a bad name, especially during their busy season, but donors deserve to feel confident about their contributions, Bartholomy said.

“Charities have an obligation to be open and transparent so that the public can make confident decisions when donating money,” he said. “While failure to disclose doesn’t necessarily mean the charity is unethical or hiding something, it should raise a red flag for potential donors if a charity is holding back information and not being up front.”

BBB’s Requests

The Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont says that 44 charities in its 20-county area have not responded to requests for information needed for the reliability reports it issues. That represents about 30 percent of the 150 charities in its database:

• Amvets Pick Up Service

• The Arc of Mecklenburg County Inc.

• Bessemer City Crisis Center

• Better Day

• Boy Scouts of America, Central N.C. Council (Albemarle)

• Boys and Girls Homes of N.C., Inc.

• Camp Care Inc.

• Carolina Minority Supplier Development Council

• Charlotte Firefighters Association

• Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center Inc.

• Children’s Charity Fund

• Christian Rehabilitation Center

• Delta Health Foundation

• Favar

• Fraternal Order of Police

• Funeral Consumer Alliance of Central Carolinas

• Gaston County Family YMCA

• Hickory Firefighters Association

• Hope World Wide — North Carolina

• Horse Protection Society

• The Joan Roberts Foundation for Ovarian Cancer

• The Kristen Foundation

• Link Adoption

• Living Waters Foundation

• Love In the Name of Christ

• Make A Dream Come True, Inc.

• Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central N.C.

• Matthews Help Center • N.C. Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association

• N.C. State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police

• North Carolina Association of the Deaf Inc.

• North Carolina Highway Patrol Chapter PBA

• North Charlotte Lions Club

• Paramedics for Children

• Peachford Communities

• Piedmont Peace Project

• Police Protective Fund

• Salvation Army Charlotte Area Command

• Society of St. Andrew

• Southern State Benevolent Police Association

• St. Andrew’s Homes • World Wide Pool Players of America, Inc.

• Youth Harbor Inc.

• Youth With A Mission

Tips before you give

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau and Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity watchdog group.  

• Make sure you understand the charity and its purpose.

“Many people make assumptions on charities based solely on their name or because it is a well-known organization. That doesn’t mean the individual is on the money about what programs they will be supporting,” Weiner said. You should be able to find a charity’s mission clearly stated on its Web site or on the appeal it sends via mail or e-mail.

When an unfamiliar organization asks for a donation, check the BBB ( for a report on it. Remember, there are more than a million charities in the U.S. You can’t be expected to know each one intimately. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, ask for the charity’s name and address and get full identification from the solicitor. Ask to see written information on the charity’s program and finances.

• Know how much of your donation actually helps the charity.

It is important to know how much of an organization’s money is going to its good works and how much to administrative overhead. You don’t need to base your entire giving decision on the numbers, but make sure you are comfortable with them, Weiner said.

New this year: Claiming your tax deduction

Starting this year, charitable donors must have a record of all cash donations, no matter how small, to claim their tax deductions. Every cash contribution must be verified by a canceled check, credit card or bank statement or receipt from the charity. In the past, standards were looser for contributions less than $250.

A word on churches

Churches receive a lot of donations. The BBB and Guidestar provide info on church-affiliated charitable organizations, such as Catholic Social Services, but not the churches themselves. What to do? Call your church business office with your questions or attend a financial committee meeting.

How to check out a charity

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Look up whether a local or national charity is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau or if it has complaints lodged against it or if it hasn’t disclosed the information requested by the BBB to evaluate it.

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Look up your charity’s federal tax return, a.k.a. its Form 990.

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If you simply want to check that a group is considered by the IRS to be a charity, so that you can take tax deductions for your contributions, check the IRS Web site. Go to and click on “Charities & Non-Profits,” then “Search for Charities,” and then “Search Now.”

• Go directly to the charity.

Some groups provide links to their 990s as well as their annual reports and audited financial statements on their Web sites.

You can also call the charity with your questions and to ask for a copy of its annual report or 990. A reputable one will understand you want to know where your money is going.

How to pick a charity: One couple’s story

Mindy Leonard and her family haven’t exchanged Christmas presents in 10 years.

“We said, `This is getting out of hand. We’d rather just give to charity,’ ” said the 35-year-old Charlotte commercial real estate appraiser.

Every year at the holidays, Leonard and husband Kevin give $300-400 to the Charlotte Rescue Mission, a Christian charity that runs residential chemical dependency recovery programs for men and women.

Leonard recalls doing some research on, a Web site that publishes the tax returns of charitable organizations. It’s there that she thinks she read that the Charlotte Rescue Mission doesn’t take government funds. That was appealing, she said, because that means the organization is free to act in the best interest of the community.

A quick check of Guidestar shows Leonard was right. The Charlotte Rescue Mission doesn’t take government money. On its 990s, the field for government funds was blank.

Tim Troutman, donor services supervisor, said that while some Christian charities accept government money, they might have to change their program to get it, and Charlotte Rescue Mission doesn’t want to do that. “We attribute the success of our program to the fact that we are a Christian organization,” he said.

— amy baldwin, 704-358-5179

Shrinking Catawba reveals surprises for watchful


(BFP reader submitted photo)


Anybody can see the Catawba River is in trouble.

All that land uncovered by retreating water is a constant reminder of just how much. It looks like you could play softball or miniature golf on wide open spaces that were once inundated. As I worry about the river, I’ve wondered if the land will be permanently damaged by prolonged exposure and if the river would look the same once the drought ends.

Two local river experts — Joe Stowe of Belmont and Jimmy Drumm of Mount Holly — recently told me the exposed land won’t be harmed in the long run.

Both have been keeping a close watch on the river they love. They’ve never seen the water as low and or been so amazed at the things they’ve found there.

Stowe, 66, who is chairman of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, recently spotted a 3-foot-diameter red oak stump near his boat lift.

It was an opportunity for him to clear out a major chunk of debris. Sparks flew as Stowe’s chainsaw bit hard into the stump.

The thing didn’t want to come out of the spot where it had been sunk so long the wood had almost petrified.

The shrinking Catawba is full of surprises in these critical times.

The drought has changed the dynamics of wildlife along the river.

Stowe said more raccoons, squirrels and deer are watering in the river as small creeks and streams dry up in nearby forests.

He’s seen muskrats moving to the water as their dens are exposed in riprap along the shoreline.

The muskrats and raccoons are also dealing with a reduced food source.

Stowe said that in early summer, as the river banks first began retreating, mussels were exposed and died. The rotten mussels attracted flocks of buzzards, gulls and crows. That’s passed now, but Stowe said the mussel population took a big hit.

With boat traffic down, he said the river actually looks cleaner. He thinks people are taking better care of the ailing Catawba.

Pieces of the past     pb280315.jpg

Competitive fisherman Jimmy Drumm isn’t on the Catawba as often — only about twice a week instead of four or five because of the drought.All the boat landings have been closed except for the one at Nivens Creek in Lake Wylie, S.C.

Drumm, 60, has fished the river since age 3. He knows the Catawba’s stories and lore and respects it highly.

His current view of the river: There’s plenty of deep water and fish are still biting.

Just be careful when you get out there. And don’t even think about venturing north of the railroad trestle in Belmont. From that point about two miles or so upriver to the Mountain Island Dam, the going is extremely treacherous.


(BFP reader submitted photo)

Drumm knows that for a fact. He tried it about 1 1/2 months ago.

“It was very, very slow going,” Drumm said. “I was amazed at the rock beds and the clusters of trash and roots and stumps. I’d never seen this stuff before.”

On the exposed ground, he saw bridge abutments washed away by the legendary flood of July 1916 — the same high water that destroyed the Mountain Island textile mill and village. Drumm spotted an old wooden device with metal hooks that may have been used at the mill to roll logs or cotton bales.

He also found an old wagon wheel hub and spokes. When he returned later to get the items, someone had already beaten him to them. Drumm has heard about folks hunting the exposed land for musket balls and arrowheads.

As the drought continues, the river reveals pieces of the region’s past.

Looking ahead

I hope the drought breaks soon, but forecasts don’t look good.

Stowe said if the river level drops another foot, some water intakes will become inoperable. Continued conservation is a must.

Meanwhile, Stowe and Drumm also are concerned about the river’s long-term future.

Managing sediment caused by development will continue to be a problem long after the drought.

Maybe our worries in this extraordinary dry season will stick in our minds. When the river rebounds, it still will be in trouble and need our help.

High school plans in motion


New Gaston school site has not yet been identified, but it would be in east end of county

Can’t wait for this site to be identified and the choice of name, colors, mascots, and whether a soccer field will be a part of the the campus plans.


It is too bad that the county school board and the “educated” planners do not consider more urban models of school designs. These models would build on smaller land in a vertical format. The Belmont vision of “Town Center” could be accomplished, better park and community facilities such as baseball, softball, soccer, football, and cross country courses could be assembled in a workable plan that can be used year around. Of course, the school won’t be in Belmont and the new UDO of Gaston County doesn’t really address school construction issues, but it is worth a plug to keep up discussion.

Our coffee-klatch speculation is that the site will be on the McAdenville side of Lowell north of the interstate.  There is a 260+ acre piece of property that is owned by Belmont Land & Investment. It is adjacent to Lowell Elementary school and could made accessible from either exit #22 or #23 of I-85. But again, we just speculate…



Pam Stowe selected as Teacher of the Year at BMS

Friend and neighbor, Pam Stowe, was recently selected as Teacher of the Year at Belmont Middle School.


Congratulations Ms. Stowe !

Leigh Pressley, a Neighbors columnist with the Charlotte Observer wrote a great article in the Sunday paper. Read it here.


Pittenger property plans go back to designer

The Charlotte Observer gave an update on the development plans of the biggest land area in Belmont in last Sunday’s paper.  

pittenger.jpg State Senator Robert Pittenger purchased the land from Crescent Resources (Duke Power) several years ago. Crescent had years earlier voluntarily annexed the land into the city limits.  Pittenger now is planning to sell the land to real estate developers, “…from up north…”, accrding to the article.

This is a BIG test for the power of the Planning & Zoning Board, city staffers, and the City Council. As council candidate Richard Turner suggests, “…give teeth…to land use plan…”.

One of the Front Porch visitors, settin’ over in the rocking chair, has offered her opinions, some of which we had to edit out or she wooda been pickin’ out pricklies from her behind.


Things came through like, ‘be careful”, “plan of action”, “vision”, and, “get people’s support”, among other things.

Words that politicians use, even in their own personal business dealings can and should be parsed. When Pittenger says, “that’s private”, he is saying, “there is no real buyer, I am trying to run up the price on my property”. The term “real estate investor”, means that capitalism is working at its best. But this form of capitalism affects the quality of life in a community he has never lived in, or spent the night in.  

We suggest that everyone should be wary about the term “property rights”, especially in this city election.