Developers announced ambitious plans during better days - ranging from densely packed urban communities with shops and condos to suburban office and hotel projects the size of a small town.
Then one by one, the recession and credit crunch killed the projects as developers could no longer get the money to build their dreams.
And the aftermath is being felt in various ways.
Unfinished residential sites have unsightly foundation slabs or utility stubs sticking out of the ground. Land is back on the market at depressed prices. City employees spent hours approving zoning requests or studying site plans for projects that will likely never happen.
In west Charlotte, the old Charlotte Coliseum off Tyvola Road was imploded in 2007 to make way for a $624 million community of homes, retail, hotel rooms and offices. Today, a trailer sits alone surrounded by gravel and grass.
In Cornelius, a massive mixed-use project was planned that leaders predicted could generate thousands of jobs. The bank now owns the farmland.
Some projects survived, such as the Riverwalk in Rock Hill, a commercial/residential/recreational mix being built on the site of the old Celanese chemical plant. The developer said single-family homes should hit the market this year.
But most local large-scale land development is likely dead for at least three years, because the projects depend on speculation and work best when the market is "frothy," says consultant and commercial real estate broker John Culbertson of Cardinal Real Estate Partners LLC.
"There's got to be a lot of momentum," Culbertson said. "You've got to get the land sold quickly."
A bright spot among the nonstarts is that they were killed early, minimizing the number of vacant buildings or partially developed projects, said real estate analyst Frank Warren.
"We got ahead of ourselves, and we were not in a sustainable pattern," Warren said.
When the bulls are back and ready to dig, don't expect acres of square footage built on speculation. Forget parking decks in outer suburban areas because they will be too costly to build, developers say.
Future projects will be smaller - think $15 million or less, and built in phases, experts say.
Crosland LLC executive Mike Wiggins remembers five years ago giving helicopter tours to potential retailers, flying over a proposed mixed-use project in northern Lancaster County.
"They were saying, 'Bigger,' " recalls Wiggins, senior vice president of retail development. "They wanted three-quarters to a million square feet. Then the world changed.
"Developers are by nature enthusiasts," Wiggins said. "And we may have gotten caught up in our own designs and dreams."
The near future looks more like Crosland Greens - a Crosland mixed-use development on 36 acres at Scaleybark Road and South Boulevard near the light-rail line.
Crosland is building homes suitable for a variety of incomes and has commitments for at least 20,000 square feet in a proposed 60,000-square- foot office building. The retail plan calls for a grocery store, restaurants and other services that support a neighborhood's everyday needs.
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