Uptown’s most famous vacant building – the historic and historically-dormant Carolina Theatre – has yet another rebirth plan in the making.
Foundation for the Carolinas, which recently moved next door to the site, is proposing a temporary park for the land in front of the theater and an office building to go up later over the theater.
And it’s all contingent on the city accepting an offer of $1 for the site.
In return, the foundation will launch a three-phase plan that promises to preserve the 85-year-old theater on North Tryon Street for use in civic affairs.
Public entertainment could also make a return to the theater, if the foundation can find a private sector partner to handle independent art/film events on weekend nights, officials said.
Calling the existing site an “eye sore,” foundation officials want to jump-start a cleanup by turning the area in front of the building into a “pocket park” before the Democratic National Convention arrives in early September.
A city economic development committee takes up the matter July 19.
The cost of the park is estimated at $150,000, which would come from the foundation or through community donations. A half-dozen outdoor sculptures would be provided from the foundation’s existing collection of donated art.
Phase two of the plan would further develop the park with programming, retail and artistic presentations.
Phase three, to begin no earlier than three years, would replace the park with a mid-rise office building for civic groups. Tenants might include such organizations as the Charlotte Chamber, which has already expressed interest in the site, said Laura Smith of the foundation.
It’s possible the foundation may partner with a developer on the project, which might mean a more commercial leaning to the office space, Smith said. However, the foundation maintains that any plan it pursues would preserve the theater for civic use.
“The community has been struggling to figure out what to do with the Carolina Theatre for a long time, because no one wants to see it lost,” Smith said. “But everyone has gotten fatigued because we as a community have been working on it so long.”
She is referring to the fact that the site has been a source of numerous proposals since it became dormant in 1978. They include suggestions for a museum and a 20-story condo project over the theater. City officials say one condo plan remains on the table, though the developer’s option on the property expired in November.
Foundation officials say their preferred use for the site is as much needed meeting space for public sector and nonprofits. The foundation hosted 349 meetings at its adjacent building in April alone, and 95 percent were nonprofit sessions.
Leslie McCray of the foundation noted that, while preservation is a key, historic renovation is not possible because the building has suffered from decades of neglect. What remains is not an ornate theater setting, but largely a concrete shell, she said.
“The bottom line is there’s not much to restore,” she said. “We’d hate to build expectations that we’ll come away with a restored theater from the 20s and 30s.”
Carolina Theatre Preservation Society President Charlie Clayton was not familiar with details of the foundation proposal, but said his nonprofit remains supportive of any plan that preserves the theater and makes it available for public entertainment.
“It’s got the best acoustics of any place in town. Why waste all that.”