The Charlotte City Council voted unanimously Monday night to give movie executive Bert Hesse an exclusive six-month window to negotiate with the city about remaking Eastland Mall.
The agreement was cheered by Hesse’s supporters, but a large question still remains: How much will taxpayers have to pay to transform Eastland into movie studios, a film school, restaurants and retail?
Hesse, who is leading the group Studio Charlotte Development, said after the meeting that he didn’t know how much public support would be needed.
“Not right now,” said Hesse, who has partnered with Pacifica Ventures of Santa Monica, Calif., to build the proposed studios. “We wanted to get over this hurdle now.”
The city bought Eastland for $13.2 million last summer. It invited developers to offer proposals to remake the mall, and initially several expressed interest. But by this summer, only two groups remained – Hesse’s Studio Charlotte Development and a plan from Noah and Rick Lazes to make Eastland into an entertainment/activity center with an outdoor ski slope. The Lazes dropped out Aug. 14.
Hesse has pushed the city to strike a deal. But city staff has resisted, saying there are too many unknowns. A compromise is the “memorandum of understanding” that gives Hesse an exclusive for six months.
The city’s economic development staff has warned developers that it has little money to subsidize the project. The city has said it would be open to some financial help, such as a below-market sale of the 80 acres surrounding Eastland or possibly a rebate on some of the new property taxes created from the project.
A city fund dedicated to remaking Eastland has less than $2 million remaining. The city spent most of the Eastland money in buying the mall and in hiring a contractor to demolish it.
During the council meeting, Hesse showed a short movie extolling the benefits of his proposal. Narrated by Mike Collins of WFAE radio, the movie said Hesse would build the largest film studio on the East Coast, create thousands of jobs and offer inner-city students a way to break into the movie business.
Once the studio is built, Hesse’s plan calls for retail stores and residential housing to be built nearby.
Council members did not discuss the agreement before voting.
The deal calls for the city staff to bring forward a proposal to the City Council’s economic development committee within six months.
Eastland was once the hub of east Charlotte. But the mall began a slow decline in the 1990s as shoppers moved to other malls such as SouthPark and Concord Mills. Eastland closed in 2010.
Residents carried signs Monday saying “Make It Happen!”
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