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Light rail greenway sought connecting uptown, South End

Charlotte Center City Partners wants to turn the right of way along the Lynx light-rail line into a 3.3-mile greenway and parks network that would tie South End to uptown.

The plan, to be unveiled at a Center City Partners awards banquet Thursday evening, would create a “linear park” that would include walkways along the light-rail line interspersed with gardens, public art and other activities.

The idea, dubbed the Rail Trail, remains in the conceptual stage and has no estimated price tag or completion date, Center City Partners President Michael Smith told the Observer’s editorial board Wednesday.

“Picture Freedom Park, but linear,” he said. “We’re excited about the concept.”

He stressed that one of the hardest tasks in creating an urban park – acquiring the land – was completed via land acquisition for the Blue Line, which runs parallel to South Boulevard.

Others involved in the project said people in the South End already walk their dogs and go for runs along the wide sidewalk running alongside the rail tracks in that area.

“It has become the de facto park for the South End community,” said David Furman, an architect and founder of the Centro CityWorks development firm. “We just think it’s a natural to take this sidewalk and turn it into this linear park experience. … It can be a destination amenity not just for the people in the South End but for anyone who wants to come and be a part of it.”

Furman worked on the concept with landscape architect Richard Petersheim of the LandDesign firm and Terry Shook, a nationally recognized urban planning consultant.

The greenway, stretching from the Lynx facility just south of Remount Road to uptown, would broaden along the way to include about a half-dozen parks. Furman and Petersheim said the concept would give shoppers access to galleries, restaurants and shops along the route.

They said they’d been inspired by New York City’s High Line, a linear park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the west side of Manhattan. They noted that that park has generated $2 billion in economic development but stressed that they don’t expect anything near that for the Charlotte project.

The idea for the linear park is included in the 2020 Center City Vision Plan, which the Charlotte City Council approved in 2011.

“This is an adopted piece of policy, so it’s not something we’re selling,” Smith said. “It’s more about how” to get it done.

Floating a multimillion-dollar bond referendum won’t be the way, Smith said, but the project would require financial help from the city. Officials also would welcome support from businesses along the path. While land for much of the project is already in place, officials said they will need to secure easements in some areas.

Smith and other officials said they hope to develop the project piece by piece, as support bubbles up among property owners and residents along each section. If some sections gain no support, officials said, those might simply remain dormant.

“It’s not a static thing. It’s something the community can manipulate and make their own,” Petersheim said of the plan.

The tie to uptown Charlotte would come via a park that would be built near the Camden Grandview apartments, overlooking Interstate 277. The trail would dogleg over to South Tryon and cross the interstate via the recently renovated 277 bridge.

The 2013 Vision Awards banquet, where the plan is being unveiled, honors individuals, businesses and organizations that have helped improve Charlotte’s uptown. Ed Crutchfield, retired president of First Union National Bank, will be among the honorees.

Officials said they have had preliminary conversations with some property owners and will step up their communication efforts. If reaction to the Rail Trail idea is positive, their next step will be to develop a master plan and explore financing mechanisms.

“We’re really announcing a vision,” Furman said. “We’re announcing an idea and saying, ‘Why not? Why can’t we make this happen?’ Let’s figure out what the hurdles are and get this going.”

Eric Frazier: 704-358-5145; @ericfraz on Twitter
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