Taxpayers in the Tar Heel state are suing North Carolina’s governor, Commerce Department, and Johnson & Wales over what they describe as “multiple pieces of legislation” adopted by the state’s General Assembly solely for the purpose of luring the renowned culinary school from its campuses in Charleston and Norfolk, Va.
The lawsuit filed in the Wake County Court said the legislation committed Jim Black, then the Speaker of the North Carolina House, to providing $10 million in state funds to support J&W’s relocation and expansion in Charlotte. A letter written on June 4, 2002, to J&W president Jack Yena by Marc Basnight, then president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, promised the school $1 million immediately and the receipt of an additional $9 million to be paid out over the next five years.
Later that month, the university announced plans for a new centralized $82 million Charlotte campus.
The plaintiffs, Jason Reine and Donald Reid, contend the money spent on the school was for its own private financial benefit and brought no discernible public benefit. They say the state’s agreement with the university does not guarantee job creation or promise economic growth, as required by the One North Carolina Fund, from which the money was withdrawn. They also complain that the state gave the money to the school without performance criteria, but refused to give grants to the plaintiffs on similar terms. Reine and Reid want the $10 million transfer from state coffers declared unconstitutional and repaid. In addition to the state money, Johnson & Wales also received financial support from Bank of America, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Center City Partners, Compass Group North America, and the City of Charlotte.