As the days count down to the Democratic National Convention, visionaries behind a $26 million retail-housing-parking village rising near Johnson C. Smith University hope finishing by the September event will draw attention to their plans.
Project organizers are pushing to finish the 300-bed, suite-style student apartment complex in time to host convention-goers. Providing visitors a place to stay, shop and socialize could give a boost to efforts to remake the less-than-1-mile stretch between uptown and the university. Those behind the project hope it will serve as a national model for how businesses and public and private sectors can work together to remake economically distressed areas.
"With an international audience coming to town...we want to showcase the West Trade Street-Beatties Ford Road corridor," said N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham, who works for the university in community and government relations. "Here is something right in North Carolina that can be a national example."
At the centerpiece of the effort is the 2-acre Mosaic Village under way at West Trade Street, about a block away from the university. It'll include a four-level, 400-space parking deck, the student housing, and 7,500 square feet for street-level retail. Retail possibilities include a restaurant, drugstore or bank, or barbershop, according to those involved.
Griffin Brothers Cos., a family-owned tire and auto repair business in the Charlotte area, is the owner and developer of Mosaic Village. The university has a long-term lease. The city of Charlotte made an investment, too, awarding a $3.18 million revitalization grant for a 30-year lease on 203 of the 400 parking spaces.
Other efforts involving the university, businesses and other entities include:
Lighting up the West Trade Street/Interstate 77 underpass with a $300,000, 3D lighting project sponsored by the Arts & Science Council. Graham said the goal is to unveil the project in time for the CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte on Feb. 27 to March 3, to capture the attention of alumni and campus visitors in town for the tournament, which includes JCSU. The lighting project will feature three color schemes, including the university's blue and gold.
The idea is to bring energy to an underpass long seen as a dividing line between the school an uptown.
Along West Trade, on the east side of the underpass, there's Johnson & Wales University and the newer residences, offices and street-level stores that make up Gateway Village.
On the west side of the underpass are older or closed-up homes and commercial businesses. The lighting project will help create a "seamless" transition between both sides, Graham said.
Building a "retail management corner" outside the campus gates where student entrepreneurs-in-the-making will run three stores launched by the school.
Graham said the Smith family - longtime area property owners not related to the school - is working with the university to redevelop the site at the multiway Five Points intersection of West Trade Street, Beatties Ford Road, Rozzelles Ferry Road and West Fifth Street. The school expects to break ground this fall to build the businesses, which will include a clothing store, snack shop, and fraternity and sorority paraphernalia businesses. A cost estimate isn't available.
Creating a "Smith Square" intersection near the university entrance, with a college-town feel that would be anchored by the retail management corner.
Boosting the corridor
Mike Griffin, whose father, Larry Sr., started the Griffin Brothers family business as a tire store at 1524 W. Trade St., hopes Mosaic Village will help spur other businesses to invest or relocate to the corridor.
Griffin said it's been a longtime family goal to boost the corridor. In 2004, before the financial meltdown, the family worked with architect Darrel Williams of Neighboring Concepts on a project to revitalize the property.
They needed a major advocate to make it work. Then Ron Carter became JCSU's president in 2009.
Griffin met with Carter, and heard the president's vision to build up the school's presence both inside and outside the campus gates. Over a handshake deal, Griffin agreed to partner with the school to renovate its former store at 1524 W. Trade into the Arts Factory, the university's 14,000-square-foot visual and performing arts building. It opened last year and is next to Mosaic Village.
Griffin expects the crowning glory of the village project to be the rooftop terrace, which could serve as a place to entertain and impress, with views of the uptown skyline.
He says it'll be a push to finish in time to host DNC visitors. Events kick off Sept. 3 with a party at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and end Sept. 6, with President Barack Obama accepting the party's nomination at Bank of America Stadium.
"We hope to ... show (top) level executives of Fortune 500 companies the corridor, through holding events on the rooftop terrace," Griffin said.
Graham said the university also hopes to showcase itself to visitors. He said JCSU is already getting attention from urban planners and national media, as a historically black university of 1,500 students, spearheading area changes.
"We're a small university but we're doing big things ... in terms of corridor development," Graham said.