A consultant hired to guide the latest efforts to redevelop the former Eastland Mall site revealed one surprising finding this week: A solid majority of Charlotteans seem to want the name to stay.
The redevelopment plan is still a work in progress, as Charlotte City Council’s economic development committee heard Wednesday. A consultant hired to plumb the question of why the mall site has languished for years wrapped up the first phase of its study, including community interviews and discussions with developers, local non-profits and business owners.
Their conclusion? Bringing development to the empty tract at Albemarle Road and Central Avenue is going to take a pretty substantial push from the city, which bought the 80-acre, defunct mall in 2012 for $13.2 million and tore Eastland down.
“No developer expressed an interest in investing in site as-is,” Charlotte city staff wrote, summarizing the first phase of the redevelopment study’s findings. “Achievable rents are too low to support new construction (without) some type of public support.”
One detail that stood out: In spite of some council members who believed the “Eastland” name should be eliminated to help rebrand the area, most people the consultants gathered input from want “Eastland” to stay: 63 percent of people the consultants spoke with wanted the name “Eastland,” another 6 percent chose “Eastland as part of the name,” while “Eastland Village” racked up 3 percent of votes.
“EaLa” also got 3 percent, it’s worth noting.
City Council voted to hire Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group for $145,000 in March. Now that the first phase of the study is complete, City Council will consider over the next few months whether to spend another $430,000 on a much more detailed effort to analyze and plan for development on the site.
Council member Dimple Ajmera said she was encouraged to hear from developers who see the site as desirable if the city invests in the surrounding infrastructure. That includes better roads and future phases of the Gold Line streetcar that are supposed to run to the site.
“It was energizing to hear directly from developers who have expressed an interest on this site,” said Ajmera, who represents the area. “They’re asking the city to take leadership on this and to commit to making the infrastructure better so they can invest.”
She emphasized that simply selling the land at a discount – or even giving it away – isn’t likely to produce results. That echoes local developers who have commented recently that they wouldn’t take the land for free.
“If you just give up the land, that’s not going to work,” said Ajmera. “They have said if you do infrastructure and connectivity investments, we’re happy to invest. But we (the developers) need some sort of commitments.”
Past plans for the Eastland site that fell through centered on bringing in one developer to do a large, transformational project, such as building movie studios or an artificial ski slope. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is building a K-8 magnet on the site, the only plan that’s panned out so far.
The latest round of planning points to the likelihood of bringing in small, incremental developments (“Site should be divided into manageable pieces or development pods,” staff wrote) over multiple phases, instead of one big plan that’s built all at once.