Bypass will ax direct U.S. 74 access for hotel, offices
by Kara Lopp
Naru and Vinod Patel are fearful they’ll soon be forced to close their hotel. And it’s not due to the recession.
In fact, business is up at the Country Inn & Suites the brothers own at the intersection of Independence Commerce Drive and Mount Harmony Church Road. But the Patels, like other businesses along Independence Commerce, will lose direct access to Independence Boulevard/U.S. 74, when the long-planned Monroe bypass is built. Without a driveway off U.S. 74, the Patels say first-timers already have difficulty finding their hotel. But when the bypass blocks Independence Commerce, the task could become nearly impossible, they say, because drivers will have to take a roundabout route to get there. More likely, they say, drivers won’t come at all, opting for hotels with better access.
The Patels have 25 years in the hospitality industry and owned locations in Ohio and Indiana before moving to North Carolina and opening their Matthews location in 2001. With about 75 percent occupancy rates in 2010, the hotel generated about $1.3 million in revenue and pays about $300,000 in taxes a year, they say. They still owe about $400,000 in mortgage payments.
“They’re going to make us close down our doors,” Vinod Patel, of south Charlotte, said. “We stand to lose everything that we have in this property. We can lose our shirts.”
Independence Commerce is a dead-end street off U.S. 74 with connection to Mount Harmony Church Road. The street falls inside Matthews’ town limits, but properties off it are split between Matthews and Stallings.
For months now, the Patels and fellow property owners have been pleading with town and state officials for help. Unlike businesses whose property will be swallowed by the bypass, property owners here aren’t slated to receive cash compensation from the state.
In response, the towns have been doing their own type of pleading.
Matthews and Stallings officials have met several times with the N.C. Department of Transportation and its division – the N.C. Turnpike Authority, which will build the bypass – to discuss remedies.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said public safety is his biggest concern once access to U.S. 74 is cut. First responders will need more time to the hotel and businesses there, he said.
“The state doesn’t seem to think it’s very impactful. We think it is,” Taylor said.
And the proposed solution? Connecting McKee Road in Matthews to Stevens Mill Road, which intersects with Mount Harmony Church Road. It’s not ideal but would help public safety officials and perhaps the businesses, too, Stallings Town Manager Brian Matthews said.
At the towns’ request, the Turnpike Authority is getting a cost estimate for the project and should have a proposal by next month, Steve DeWitt, the authority’s chief engineer, said.
“It’s not a 100 percent solution, but it could reduce traveling time for fire trucks and police cars and make the route safer,” Matthews said.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has an office off Stevens Mill Road, and the construction also will affect Team Church, Ammons Plumbing, other businesses and even homeowners. Matthews and Stallings were scheduled to discuss the topic at their Jan. 10 commissioners’ meetings, but the meetings were canceled because of the snowstorm. They are rescheduled for Jan. 24.
Even if the two boards agree this is the best route, Matthews warned, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization and the state road agency must approve. It also isn’t yet clear who will pay for the project. There has been some discussion, Matthews said, of the state paying for at least a portion of the project if it can realize any savings during the bypass construction.
‘Our access is not their concern’
Roger Martin is concerned about safety, too. The Independence Commerce property owner from Mint Hill is a member of the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department board. It’ll take drivers, including rescue vehicles, an extra 2½ miles to get to the hotel or his three office buildings off Independence Commerce, he said. Martin’s buildings are home to 14 businesses, including his largest tenant, Hendrix Business Systems, which occupies about 10,000 square feet, he said. Martin bought the property in 2000 and built his first building in 2006. If the bypass issue is resolved, he plans to build at least two more buildings – for a total of five. He has only one office space available now, he said.
“The demand is there for small, entrepreneurial space,” Martin said.
But his conversations, so far, with Turnpike Authority staff haven’t been encouraging. Officials don’t realize, he says, the economic impact of the decision.
“The Turnpike Authority has been polite and professional but has made it crystal clear that our access was not their concern,” he said. “We have some 150 acres of very viable commercial real estate here. They’ve said the turnpike’s mission is to build a super highway, and it is not their concern as to what happens to the economic viability. That should absolutely be their concern. It should at least be the concern of North Carolina.”
A German company recently contacted Martin about its interest in building a distribution center and showroom for its products in Matthews, he said. Martin wouldn’t name the company.
“Here we are, and we’re saying ‘We’re sorry. We can’t help you,’ ” he said. Companies are “looking for that opportunity, and Matthews and Stallings need every available acre of commercial real estate.”
Bill Ingram agrees.
The owner of Independence Motors Charlotte, formerly Independence Hummer, Ingram bought 4 acres at the corner of U.S. 74 and Independence Commerce in 2002, long before state officials drew the bypass route. The still undeveloped Matthews property won’t be worth nearly as much once the bypass comes through, he said. Ingram said he had hoped to build another dealership there.
And Matthews will likely lose, too.
“It also is a very big hit to the tax base for Matthews,” Ingram said. “Good access would make it much more valuable. The state seems bent to buy as little or pay as little for property … like they design it so they don’t have to compensate all the people who are affected. The state seems to be taking access away without compensation, and it’s really concerning. Right now they’ve just put a tax base in the hole.”