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One Eastland vision focuses on a ski slope

Of the two developer proposals to redevelop Eastland Mall, one is nearly identical to the city of Charlotte’s original vision: A movie studio surrounded by offices and stores.

But when Rick and Noah Lazes, a father and son team behind ARK Ventures Inc., said in early June the focus of their Eastland site would be an artificial ski slope, their idea drew a number of questions.

Would it be similar to a famous artificial ski slope in Dubai, which is indoors and uses man-made snow? Or would it be something easier – and cheaper – to build?

The Lazes said last week their ski slope would be outside and would use an artificial product called Neverplast, a carpet that has bristles to mimic snow. It doesn’t have to be wet to work, the Lazes said.

Rick Lazes said Friday the slope would be about 150 feet tall, about the height of an 11-story office building. The run for skiers would be between 600 and 700 feet.

The Lazes said there are a number of similar ski slopes in the U.S. and Europe. But most are built on hills or mountains that already exist.

“We have to build or own hill,” Rick Lazes said.

He said the ARK Ventures plan calls for a number of ponds to be built on the Eastland site. Lazes said the dirt from those ponds could be used for the hill, or the entire project could be built from steel.

The Lazes said that the ski slope would surrounded by other activity centers, like a gymnasium and skate board park. If that is successful, they would look to build retail and perhaps offices on the rest of the Eastland site.

“To make that site happen, you need some unique pieces,” Noah Lazes said, comparing it to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

The city of Charlotte bought Eastland Mall and 81 acres last year for $13.2 million. The City Council recently voted to spend nearly $900,000 to demolish the mall, creating a clean site that’s ready for development.

The city has said it might be able to offer financial assistance to a developer wishing to remake the site, but it has been vague about how much money it has.

The two developers who have submitted proposals – the Lazes and Bert Hesse’s Studio Charlotte Development – have said they will need some sort of public money to make their projects work. But neither developer has said how much money they will need.

Hesse is president of Central Avenue Pictures, which has a presence in Charlotte and Los Angeles.

The first phase of his project would be a 270,000-square-foot building with eight soundstages, production offices and a film school that would partner with local universities. The building also would include a 50,000-square-foot museum that would “educate and entertain” visitors about the movie industry.

After that is built, Studio Charlotte Development envisions possibly a hotel, residential units and nearly 140,000 square feet of retail space, some of it along Central Avenue.

The city floated the idea of building studios on the Eastland site in an attempt to capitalize on the state’s success in landing productions such as “The Hunger Games” and the TV series “Homeland.”

The city and a consultant are reviewing the two proposals and will make a recommendation to the city’s economic development committee July 18.

Peter Zelier of the city’s economic development office said the city needs more information about the two group’s finances and how much public money they may need.

“We are seeking clarifications on their finances and what are some of their assumptions,” he said.

The City Council doesn’t have much money to give the developers, if it chooses to offer financial assistance.

A specific fund for Eastland Mall is only expected to have $1.2 million remaining after the demolition work is finished. The city has some reserve money to restore specific corridors like Central Avenue, but that money has been set aside for a streetcar project. The corridor revitalization fund is set to be replenished, but with only $2 million annually.

A recently passed Capital Improvement Program has $20 million for “public-private partnerships.” That money could conceivably be used for Eastland, though Zeiler said city staff hadn’t considered Eastland for that money.

Another option would be to rebate the developer some of the new property tax dollars they would generate.

Noah Lazes said the project will need tax dollars.

“Without city participation, it doesn’t work,” he said. “And we are OK with that.”

The Lazes developed the N.C. Music Factory at the edge of uptown. They also own a movie studio on that site, but have said they don’t believe there is enough business to expand it.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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