Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — In June, when Johnson & Wales University and Charlotte officials announced a new $82 million school for downtown Charlotte they said it was being subsidized by local tax dollars and private funds, but they made no mention of any subsidies from the state.
On Nov. 6, The Charlotte Observer reported that the state was putting in $10 million to help lure Johnson & Wales University to downtown Charlotte. The $10 million commitment from state officials was made in secret. Subsequent Observer stories and CJ’s own investigation revealed officials cannot explain where the money would come from.
Johnson & Wales is a private career school whose main campus is in Providence, R.I. The school is best known for culinary training, but it also offers hospitality and business programs.
The school is scheduled to open in September 2004, but several employees are already working in leased office space at the Gateway Center on West Trade Street in downtown Charlotte. Eventually closing their schools in Norfolk, Va. and Charleston, S.C., school officials expect to have 250 employees and 2,800 students in Charlotte by 2007.
In a series of stories the Observer revealed that prior to the June announcement Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, House Speaker Jim Black, and Gov. Mike Easley all wrote letters indicating their support for the project and their commitment to securing $10 million.
Black’s was perhaps the strongest commitment. “You have my personal commitment of support for a $10 million investment over the next five years by the State of North Carolina for this project,” said Black in a May 23, 2002 letter to University President Dr. John A. Yena.
In an interview Nov. 8, Black’s spokesman, Danny Lineberry, told CJ that Black intended only to try to find the money. When asked where it would come from he said, “Wherever they can find it. It may not come from anywhere. The speaker made a commitment to try to get it.”
With Republicans now having a 61-59 advantage in the next legislative session, Black will likely be replaced as speaker and his “personal commitment” may be more difficult to honor.
While the governor does have a discretionary economic development fund called the One North Carolina Fund, it contains about $3 million in uncommitted money.
CJ tried to speak directly with Dr. Yena, but he did not return several phone calls. Judith Johnson, executive director of University Relations, eventually returned a call for him.
When asked whether the $10 million was essential for the move, she said, “Jack Yena has said that we would not come without the $10 million.” When asked what assurance the school had, she replied, “We believe in business by a handshake. The legal documents are being worked up.” She also said she did not know exactly where the money would come from. “We were not aware of the specifics. We felt the commitment is coming.” And what if it doesn't? “That is a separate issue,” she said.
As of Friday, Johnson & Wales had still not contacted the N.C. Department of Commerce. Spokesman Tadd Boggs told CJ, “There is no ironclad commitment. The company has never come to us and indicated a desire to get any One North Carolina Fund money.”
Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.