CHARLOTTE – Since 2001, Ray Eschert has been inviting city and county leaders to engage with neighbors at Ballantyne Breakfast Club meetings. In recent months, the “Mayor of Ballantyne” has become more of an advocate for the south Charlotte region.
He left his role as chairman of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club last year to take on more responsibility with the South Charlotte Partners, a new group working to enhance the quality of life for residents and businesses in the region.
Eschert penned a letter May 30 to Mayor Vi Lyles and the Charlotte City Council, on behalf of South Charlotte Partners, thanking leaders for including in their budget $20 million in funding for the extension of Bryan Farms Road and $5 million for public safety projects.
Eschert asked the council for an additional $5 million for other projects. He followed the letter up by asking the council in person on Jan. 11.
“The ability to identify things that need to be looked at and then bringing some weight behind them definitely gets attention,” Eschert said.
Tim Morgan and Victoria Nwasike have not only taken over the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, but they also work with Eschert on the volunteer board of the South Charlotte Partners.
While the Ballantyne Breakfast Club will continue to serve as a communications network between residents and elected bodies, the South Charlotte Partners will be focused more on policy issues, Morgan said.
Both groups are working together to bring more infrastructure to the community.
“For years, it’s always been recognized that as a donor district, we were providing a lot of funding and getting very little of it in return,” Eschert said.
The dynamics changed when Smoky Bissell and his Bissell Companies sold Ballantyne Corporate Park to Northwood Investors last year. Ballantyne leaders credit Bissell, not the city, for many of the road improvements around the 535-acre park.
One of the perks of having Eschert and Nwasike on the South Charlotte Partners board is their experience on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission. This allows them to work with developers on bringing better projects to the region.
“From my experience serving on the planning commission, you start to realize the hostility toward the developers has been based on the fact that there’s been no up-front conversations,” Eschert said.
Developers looking to invest in the Ballantyne area have traditionally depended on city staff for rezonings, but city staff doesn’t necessarily have the strongest pulse of the community. They now know to give Eschert a call.
“We obviously are not trying to tell somebody what their project has to look like, but it’s providing an opportunity for those folks to get some information to know what they’re stepping into,” Morgan said. “So when they have their community meetings, they are better prepared.”
Such dialogue could help increase the amount of buffers or decrease the number of housing units in a given project.
Eschert has advocated on behalf of the South Charlotte Partners beyond the city limits. He recently encouraged the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization to go ahead and widen Lancaster Highway.
He’s also written Gov. Roy Cooper to advance construction of managed lanes for Interstate 485, a project that could alleviate traffic congestion coming from Matthews and Union County. The group said it has received favorable feedback from the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.
Nwasike envisions South Charlotte Partners overseeing a Municipal Service District, similar to Center City Partners or University City Partners. They are taxing districts that improve quality of life in a commercial area.
For example, the University City Partners completed a study a few years ago outlining how the community would like to see light rail stations develop along the LYNX Blue Line Extension. With enough funding, the South Charlotte Partners could have paid staff supporting the volunteer board’s efforts.
As for the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, Morgan and Nwasike have been able to pick up where Eschert has left off with programming. Their next event is the annual back to school panel on Aug. 11, featuring Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and school board members Mary McCray and Sean Strain. Visit www.ballantynebreakfastclub.com to learn more about both groups.