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Sonyia Turner

July 10, 2019

DFI Community Revitalization Fellow, Master’s Candidate, City and Regional Planning, UNC-Chapel Hill

“Real estate developer,” said Sonyia Turner, when asked what she wants to do next in her career. She has clearly given this a lot of thought. Since graduating from N.C. State with a degree in architecture, Turner has been working in fields related to community development to try to hone her skills and find her passion.

Turner spent eight years with King’s Park International Church in Durham as administrator and later as director, a position extremely attuned to the community and congregation it serves. She executed a couple of largescale design projects for the organization. “I like the fun of project management. I enjoy moving from idea to full creation of something,” said Turner. “I think that comes from my architecture background. I like the big picture, and I get energized by tangible bite-sized pieces.”

It’s no surprise, then, that she was drawn to the art and science of city planning. At an open house for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Master of City and Regional Planning program, Turner came across representatives of DFI. New to the idea of working with local governments, Turner said she was intrigued by the prospect of using public investment to catalyze economic development.

She took Tyler Mulligan’s community revitalization course; she enjoyed the rigor and cared that the work impacted actual clients. Now in her final semester of her degree program, Tuner has worked on more real estate projects. “The work that DFI does is extremely catalytic, not only for the communities but for the individuals who work there,” said Turner. She helped identify a potential location for a health center in Kinston, and a predevelopment analysis and master planning process for 100 acres of raw land in Wake Forest, among others. “It broadened my horizons…The work is hard and weighty, and it will impact generations.”

It broadened my horizons… The work is hard and weighty, and it will impact generations.


-Sonyia Turner

Matthew Hutton

July 10, 2019

Senior Research Analyst for the Workforce Development Board of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Works)

A native of Trinity, North Carolina, Matthew Hutton is no stranger to small town challenges. After his undergraduate work at UNC Greensboro, Hutton worked for a hotel and land development company, getting his feet wet in what it means for communities to invest in properties. The experience inspired Hutton to explore pursuing a master of public administration degree.

“I wanted to come at it from the other side, and see how local governments might be able to influence developers to make more sustainable and equitable choices,” said Hutton. His first encounter with DFI/UNC-Chapel Hill MPA alumnus Ricky Ruvio sealed the deal. Ricky, a student at the time, talked at an MPA open house event about how he was working with DFI on a hotel development project. “It was one of the main reasons I actually ended up choosing UNC,” said Hutton.

Hutton then became a dual-degree student with the Master of City and Regional Planning program, and worked with DFI for two years as a Community Revitalization Fellow. “You’re actually doing the research that is going to influence how this community makes a decision. So the value in that is pretty big, especially for a student.”

He has already had substantive work experiences with DFI, including an affordable housing needs assessment in downtown Durham. He explored data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Community Survey to determine how much affordable housing is needed in Durham and at what levels of income. “I really love just digging into the data,” said Hutton. “I never had that opportunity before to look at a lot of different data sources and try to build out a narrative based on numbers. What is household income and potential population growth? What does that mean for future development opportunity?”

Since graduating from UNC with his Masters degrees, Hutton has started a new role focused on labor market research. His time with DFI developed an appreciation for the intersection between public and private sectors. “At the end of the day, public investment and private development are two sides of the same coin, and both are necessary to advance economic growth.” He hopes that more students like him can work with DFI. “Future public leaders then would have a better knowledge of economic development, what their role is, and how they can influence sustainability in the future.”

I wanted to come at it from the other side, and see how local governments might be able to influence developers to make more sustainable and equitable choices.

-Matthew Hutton

Jonathan Peterson

July 10, 2019

Real Estate Associate – Development, Self-Help Credit Union

As far as DFI is concerned, it was love at first sight for Jonathan Peterson. Peterson was admitted to UNC for a Master’s in City and Regional Planning and heard a student present her DFI project at an open house. “I just fell in love with the concept of being a consultant for local government, doing real estate development for public service… I knew then I wanted to go to UNC and that I wanted to become a DFI Fellow,” he said.

Peterson said of his DFI training, “It really challenged me in ways I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged before. When I first started, I knew how to work Excel, but I didn’t know how to build financial models.” This experience has helped Peterson in his role at Self-Help Ventures Fund, where he is working on community development and affordable housing projects in Durham and Greensboro.

His tenure as a development associate allowed Peterson to be mentored by DFI project managers. “I had some great mentors, who took the time, time they didn’t have to take, to really provide guidance and be a sounding board for future plans.” Peterson noted that even before he became a Fellow, DFI faculty director Tyler Mulligan sat down with him for “two hours, learning my story.”

Peterson hopes that one day he can bring the skills he first developed at DFI back to his home state of Mississippi. “It’s been awesome to see all the things happening here . . . My time at both DFI and at Self-Help are helping me develop a critical lens in development, so when I go back to Mississippi, I can help out there.

It really challenged me in ways I don’t feel like I’ve been challenged before.


-Jonathan Peterson

Ricky Ruvio

July 10, 2019

Business Analyst, City of Winston-Salem

Ricky Ruvio has spent his career serving communities in North Carolina. A native of Dobson, Ruvio said that he has seen how smaller communities struggle to foster economic development. “I come from a small rural area … I’ve seen some of the hurdles that these smaller communities are experiencing.”

Prior to graduate school, Ruvio worked in Caldwell County for the Carolina College Advising Corps, helping first generation, low-income students attend college. But his work with DFI influenced his career choice. “It was incredibly meaningful and very formative. It dragged me into the career path that I ended up choosing and gave me a really high level understanding of local government real estate.”
After working on DFI projects in Shallotte and Elon, Ruvio recently started a job as business analyst for a regional utility run by the City of Winston-Salem, applying many of the skills he learned as a Fellow. “Being able to look at numbers and see where financial investments could be made for the better of the community, and making sure that financial stewardship is at the forefront and a guiding principle of the work that I do—that’s something that I definitely picked up serving as a DFI Fellow. I can look at something and say ‘What are the impacts going to be to the constituents?’”

As a lifelong resident of North Carolina, Ruvio sees himself as a natural constituent of DFI. “I’m a Carolina guy. I was born here. I was an undergraduate here. I went to graduate school here. I did AmeriCorps service here in the state and I work here. So, I’m very much a stakeholder myself. And to be a part of that process of making municipalities in the state better was pretty incredible.”

I’m a Carolina guy. I was born here. I was an undergraduate here. I went to graduate school here. I did AmeriCorps service here in the state and I work here. So, I’m very much a stakeholder myself. And to be a part of that process of making municipalities in the state better was pretty incredible.


-Ricky Ruvio

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz

July 10, 2019

Policy Analyst, Chatham County Manager’s Office, LGFCU Innovation Award Winner

Serving as a DFI Fellow is where the rubber met the road for Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, a 2018 graduate of UNC’s Master of Public Administration and Master of City and Regional Planning programs.

“The past three years has really allowed me to build an understanding of community development.

After working with DFI, not only do I have technical skills in terms of financial modeling and market analysis, but I’ve learned there’s a creative way that you can approach your problem or an issue or a building,” said Watkins-Cruz.

A native of Charlotte, Watkins-Cruz brought a passion for affordable housing to both her graduate study and her work with DFI. She has been assisting with the Initiative’s contract with North Carolina Emergency Management to find opportunities to build affordable housing in communities affected by Hurricane Matthew. She says, “I learned data analysis specifically for affordable housing, which I had not done before. But also, I learned a new way to think about capacity, when we’re looking at this type of project, when we’re trying to put as many units on the ground as possible.”

In addition to her work with DFI, Watkins-Cruz also worked at the Chatham County Council of Aging, contributing to a project that won an Excellence in Innovation Award from LGFCU in 2017. Stephanie organized a partnership of five organizations that created a collaborative database, providing a more efficient way of coordinating minor home repair and modification projects across Chatham County.

Watkins-Cruz’s work has spanned many communities and she believes supporting DFI enables important programs across the state. “You’re investing in the state. We really have projects all over North Carolina and we could have projects really everywhere in North Carolina.”

She is continuing that work in her new role in Chatham County as a policy analyst in the Chatham County manager’s office. “A big part of why I got my next job is because they saw that I’m passionate about affordable housing, but can translate some of the skills gained as a Fellow,” she said.

 

A big part of why I got my next job is because they saw that I’m passionate about affordable housing, but can translate some of the skills gained as a Fellow.


-Stephanie Watkins-Cruz

A Long-Term, Large-Scale Vision (Kannapolis, NC)

December 21, 2018

A community wanting to transform its downtown could focus on singular projects, but UNC DFI analysis often reveals that a greater scale of redevelopment can enhance feasibility and achieve more impact. If an entire city block is vacant, the redevelopment of one building will not make a huge difference. Large-scale efforts will sometimes help mitigate the costs of development and allow for a shared vision and coordinated investment among public and private sectors—all factors that can enhance the likelihood of a successful and sustainable revitalization effort.

The Challenge

Kannapolis, North Carolina, exemplifies the scaled-up approach. In 2015, the City of Kannapolis acquired its entire historic downtown core for $8.75 million. The purchase included numerous historic buildings and large swaths of vacant land where mill structures once stood.

Much of Kannapolis’s downtown had been built and run for employees of Cannon Mills, the city’s namesake and once the largest textile factory in the world. In 2003, the mill closed and the 4,300 jobs that were lost marked the biggest permanent layoff in North Carolina history. The downtown, as well as the mill, had been acquired from Cannon Mills in 1982 by billionaire and Dole Food mogul David Murdock, who sold the mill in 1987 but held onto the downtown and surrounding acreage. Having a single owner of the area helped to facilitate the sizeable transaction between the City of Kannapolis and Murdock.

In 2015, more than half of the downtown was vacant and many of its historic structures were in states of disrepair. Few vestiges of Kannapolis’s formerly bustling downtown, where three movie theaters once played the newest films in sync with mill workers’ shifts, remained. Although the tax assessed value of downtown totaled $24.5 million, it represented less than 1% of the city’s total tax base.

With the downtown under local government ownership and a 10-year partnership with UNC DFI in place, city leadership regained control over the fate of arguably its most unique asset.

The Project

Since 2015, Kannapolis—with the help of DFI—has made major investments in its downtown, radically transforming its infrastructure, providing more greenspace, and refocusing on pedestrian-centered designs. The downtown’s primary street, for example, is being transformed into an urban, linear park. Its innovative design will tie into surrounding commercial and community spaces, providing outdoor seating and recreational opportunities.

The construction of a new baseball stadium with expected opening in Spring 2020 compliments the city’s vision. Known as the Sports and Entertainment Venue, or “SEV” for short, the new stadium will host 70 baseball games annually, seating roughly 5,400 people, while also providing a venue for outdoor concerts and events.

These strategic and innovative investments signal the City’s commitment to revitalizing its downtown, and though not yet complete as of Summer 2019, they have already begun to usher in new private investment.

Through DFI’s help in master planning, Kannapolis is beginning to transfer its downtown land holdings to private parties for redevelopment. A mix of residential, office, retail, and hospitality uses are planned, which—once implemented through a series of solicitations and Public Private Partnerships (P3s)—will breathe new life into this once-vibrant downtown.

As each property is turned over to private partners, UNC DFI conducts detailed predevelopment analyses to better inform the appropriate development program as well as the appropriate level of public investment. And as a long-term partner, DFI will remain by the City’s side throughout its downtown’s redevelopment. By continuing to provide updated financial, market, and site analyses, UNC DFI protects the City’s potential financial liability, limits public investment, and upholds the public interest.

Ultimately, as Kannapolis works to reposition itself, DFI provides resources that expand the capacities of City staff and elected officials and inform better decision-making.

The Outcome

In 2016, the City and DFI released the downtown’s first solicitation for private development. Known as the Demonstration Project, this mixed-use development opportunity served to showcase the market’s appetite and development potential of downtown Kannapolis. With UNC DFI’s help, the City successfully negotiated and executed a development agreement with an experienced partner and the project broken ground March 2019. Known as VIDA, the development will add 286 apartments, 19,000 square feet of commercial space, and 417 structured parking spaces to downtown.

Since the success of the demonstration project, UNC DFI has released additional solicitations for townhouses to be constructed at the former mill site and the adaptive reuse of several historic downtown buildings. The City and DFI will continue to release solicitations to realize the City’s goals of seeing more than $400M of investment in downtown Kannapolis.

 

Downtown Durham: Mixed-Use Opportunity

December 21, 2018

Durham County seeks a qualified development partner or partners to redevelop the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street in downtown Durham into a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, ground-floor commercial space and struc­tured parking. Responses to the solicitation are due no later than April 5, 2019. Link to view and download solicitation.

Bermuda Run: Hotel Development Oppportunity

December 21, 2018

The Town of Bermuda Run is soliciting developers for an upscale brand or independent boutique hotel in the Winston-Salem Metro. DFI conducted a hotel pre-development process for three acres of prime land located adjacent to the area’s premiere event center and regional sports park.

View and Download Solicitation

 

Master Planning and Visioning (Morganton, NC)

November 22, 2018

Making the Broughton District: A Public-Private Partnership in Morganton, North Carolina

The hospital functions currently located in the Historic Broughton Hospital campus in Morganton and Burke County, North Carolina, are expected to move to a new facility on adjacent property. This will leave more than 600,000 square feet (SF) of vacant or underutilized space in well-maintained historic buildings, some of which are over a century old. Recognizing the scale of the challenge, the North Carolina General Assembly directed a study of potential uses of the historic campus and adjoining State property, 800 acres in total, to include analysis of the costs and benefits of different redevelopment approaches.

This Broughton District master plan was completed under the leadership of the Development Finance Initiative (DFI) at the UNC School of Government as an update to its original report, Reimagining Broughton: A Reuse Study of Historic Broughton Campus which was published in 2016 in accordance with Section 15.20 of Session Law 2014-100 enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly.

The updated Broughton District master plan is a 10-year public-private development strategy to attract $182-$192 million of private investment for the mixed-use development of five opportunity sites within the District. The private projects include hotels, retail, for-sale residential, rental apartments, and an active adult community. The full Broughton District is located within a designated Opportunity Zone.

The private investment is supported by phased public investment of $81 million in amenities, infrastructure and public facilities to support public goals while enabling and complementing the mix of private uses and enhancing the marketability of the District. Within this phasing strategy is the identification of some “early win” projects that can build momentum for larger investments in the District and can demonstrate the capacity of public agencies and private investors to execute a coordinated public-private partnership.

Since the completion of the Master Plan for the Broughton District in 2019, DFI has advised the local governments and State of North Carolina on advancing both the private and public development projects within the distrct, including the identified first phase at the Silo Ridge project site. Landscape Architecture Magazine profiled the Broughton District Master Development Plan in March 2021, highlighting the thorough analysis conducted during the master planning process as well as the partnerships and local commitment to realizing the project. To read the full feature from Landscape Architecture Magazine, click here.

 

Report Download

Building reuse and downtown revitalization (Wilmington, NC)

November 21, 2018

Wilmington, North Carolina: Water Street Parking Deck

The City of Wilmington, North Carolina, hired the Development Finance Initiative (DFI) in 2013 to conduct a pre-development process for the Water Street Parking Deck (parking deck). The parking deck is an aging public parking facility prominently located in the city’s historic downtown on the Cape Fear riverfront.

Wilmington is one of North Carolina’s largest and fastest growing cities and a popular tourist destination. Its downtown area is an economic and social hub for the region. With a nearly 300-block historic district, the area includes cobblestone streets with ancient trees and lovingly restored historic homes, restaurants, shops, music and art venues, hotels, a river walk, a college campus, and a convention center.

The Challenge

The two-story Water Street Parking Deck was constructed in the 1960s and sits on 1.2 acres along Water Street overlooking the Cape Fear River. Though it is nearing functional obsolescence, the parking deck serves as primary public parking for tourists and locals alike. Surrounded by vibrant retail and entertainment businesses, the parking deck is an eyesore.

City officials long believed that a parking structure alone was not the highest and best use for the high-profile location. They envisioned a future for the site that would spur additional private investment while respecting the historic fabric of the surrounding built environment.

What city officials hoped would be a straightforward redevelopment project was much more complicated. In the last two decades, the city released two different Requests for Proposals that received no responses from the private sector. Numerous factors made consideration of development particularly challenging. The property was constrained by the physical limitations of a site surrounded by existing structures and the necessity to provide generous space for public parking. There was public discord over the use and density of the site as well as a lack of a shared vision among political leadership.

Meantime, owners of other valuable downtown properties had put redevelopment on hold until the parking deck could be refurbished.

Frustrated by the lack of interest in what they saw as a desirable development opportunity, city officials turned to the School of Government—a long-trusted and respected resource to local municipalities. In 2013, the city hired the School’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI) to help.

Roger Johnson, the City of Wilmington’s special assistant to the city manager for economic development, has been a central participant in the search for a viable solution to the Water Street Parking Deck. “Our decision to hire DFI for this project,” he said, “was greatly influenced by its association with the School of Government and the broad expertise they bring to the table.”

The Project

The city asked UNC DFI to define an economically feasible redevelopment project for the parking deck that would be attractive to the private sector while also serving varied (and sometimes competing) public interests.

DFI led a 12-month pre-development process that guided the city to key decision points about the program, the public investment, the structure of the public-private partnership, and selection of a private sector partner. This iterative process included a market analysis, site analysis, public stakeholder engagement, and financial feasibility modeling.

The market analysis provided an assessment of supply and demand dynamics aimed at understanding what types of specific uses (residential, retail, office, hotel, and parking) the downtown market could support. For the site analysis, UNC DFI directed an architecture firm in their work to determine the configuration and massing of the potential redevelopment uses identified through the market analysis.

DFI also worked with Allen Davis, urban designer in the city’s Planning, Development, and Transportation Department, to make sure the parking deck project would integrate seamlessly into its surroundings. This included urban design elements as related to adjacent building and public space, as well as emphasizing the important connection an elevated walkway provides between the redevelopment site and several existing businesses on Front Street.

Public engagement occurred throughout the pre-development process and took on several forms – one-on-one meetings, an online survey, public forums, and small group stakeholder meetings. Finally, UNC DFI performed a financial feasibility analysis of the proposed redevelopment program, informed by the site and market analyses, as well public interests collected through stakeholder engagement and endorsed by city officials.

The Outcome

DFI’s pre-development process resulted in an economically sound program and partnership structure for the parking deck, which DFI then used to actively recruit qualified private developers to the project. The city received proposals from eight development teams from across the Southeast, and with UNC DFI’s guidance, selected a skilled development partner with a successful track record in mixed-use projects in urban cores.

The Impact

Roger Johnson noted an additional unanticipated benefit to the process. “DFI brought in eight developers who had not before considered Wilmington for development, but who, because of UNC DFI’s intervention, were willing to consider building something transformative in our community,” he said. “And now, in addition to the parking deck project, I am still in contact with another five of the developers who are considering other large scale projects around the city.”

Johnson describes the parking deck and the possibility of additional business as having the potential to “transform our urban core in a powerful manner and result in large scale capital projects that will improve our community overall.”

population at project start: 110,000 people

County: New Hanover County

Tier Designation: 1

Project Type: DFI

Solicitation Archive

Description:  The City of Wilmington, North Carolina, hired the Development Finance Initiative (DFI) in 2013 to conduct a pre-development process for the Water Street Parking Deck (parking deck). The parking deck is an aging public parking facility prominently located in the city’s historic downtown on the Cape Fear riverfront.

Tags: adaptive reuse, masterplan, downtown, in-fill

Our decision to hire DFI for this project was greatly influenced by its association with the School of Government and the broad expertise they bring to the table.


– Roger Johnson, Special Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development

DFI brought in eight developers who had not before considered Wilmington for development, but who, because of DFI’s intervention, were willing to consider building something transformative in our community. And now, in addition to the parking deck project, I am still in contact with another five of the developers who are considering other large scale projects around the city.


– Roger Johnson, Special Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development

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