Three competing visions for how to revive and redevelop a former African-American neighborhood razed decades ago will take center stage next week, as Mecklenburg County seeks a developer to partner with in Second Ward.
The county is trying to redevelop a 17-acre publicly owned site that was home to Brooklyn Village until it was demolished in the 1960s wave of “urban renewal,” displacing thousands of African-American residents.
Second Ward is now largely dominated by the city’s government quarter, with sterile municipal buildings and sweeping, empty plazas. It includes the shuttered Board of Education offices, Bob Walton Plaza and the often-unused Marshall Park.
Mecklenburg County commissioners have set a special meeting for May 19 to consider developers’ proposals.
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The plans from three Charlotte-based developers differ in their details and specificity, but they point to a common vision: changing Second Ward from a government-dominated quarter of uptown that’s largely quiet after business hours into a vibrant, densely built community with a mix of uses and income levels.
Each plan would add office buildings, shops, restaurants – and thousands of new residents – to this quiet corner of uptown:
▪ A team led by Conformity Corp. proposes 1,243 residential units, 280 hotel rooms in two hotels by Intercontinental Group, 680,700 square feet of office space and 252,100 square feet of retail space.
▪ Two plans – one more dense, one less – from CitiSculpt call for up to 1,378 residential units along with hotels, retail space and offices.
▪ Crescent Communities proposes a mixed-use district with 650 market-rate apartments, 200,000 square feet of office space, 160 affordable rental units and 65 mixed-income, for-sale townhouses along Stonewall Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Third Street.
The land covered by the redevelopment proposals includes two main parcels. One is bounded by First Baptist Church, South McDowell Street, East 3rd Street, and East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The other is bounded by East Stonewall Street, South McDowell Street, South Alexander Street, and I-277. The proposals would raze many of the existing buildings there, such as Bob Walton Plaza, and reshape the area.
(Development nerds and other interested parties: You can see the presentations, including conceptual site plans and renderings, online here. Click on the May 19 meeting agenda for links).
The development teams were selected from a wider field of applicants in December, and have been presenting their plans to county staff in recent weeks. The county commissioners aren’t scheduled to vote on the plans at next week’s meeting.
Second Ward has lagged, as a building boom swept through South End and transformed the southern stretch of Tryon Street. But a wave of redevelopment is already reshaping Stonewall Street, with hundreds of apartments, a Whole Foods and a major mixed-use development planned for the former Charlotte Observer site.
Traces of history
Walking through Second Ward now, only traces of Brooklyn Village remain. Small black-and-white photographs of African-American-owned businesses such as the Brooklyn Drug Co. line the walls of Metro School on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a testament to the community that was once there.
About 1,000 black families were pushed out of the area when it was demolished as part of the urban renewal programs that swept through many U.S. cities in the 1960s and ’70s.
Funded in part with federal dollars, cities such as Charlotte bought areas of downtown considered to be slums and demolished them, then built on them or sold the land to developers. In Charlotte, the idea was that people would be better off if they were removed to new, public housing – but the housing wasn’t built, and most ended up settling in what became low-income areas around the periphery of uptown.
An earlier plan to redevelop the land into a major mixed-use community with a hotel, affordable housing, market rate condos, offices and restaurants fell through after developer Spectrum Properties dropped out in 2013.
Lindsey McAlpine, head of CitiSculpt, said his group spent time researching the area’s history and the stories of people who had lived there to gain understanding of the key question: “How can we create a legacy to the community that’s positive and inclusive across the board?”
A major transformation
CitiSculpt and Conformity are both planning to partner with national developers and financial backers for major parts of the project, according to their presentations. CitiSculpt’s team includes Akridge Invested, a major developer in the District of Columbia region, and Virginia-based Jefferson Apartment Group.
Conformity, headed by Monte Richey, is teaming up with The Peebles Corp., a national development firm with $5 billion worth of projects in cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington. The firms are including about 107 affordable apartments in their proposal.
“We wanted to build a transformational project respecting the history of Brooklyn Village,” said Don Peebles, head of The Peebles Corp. The 2.3 million-square-foot project could start immediately and would likely take seven to 10 years to fully build out.
Crescent, the largest of the three firms pitching ideas to the county, would partner with local firms The Drakeford Co. to build townhouses and Laurel Street Residential for affordable multifamily housing on the site, according to their presentation.
Brian Leary, the head of Crescent’s mixed-use division, said construction would start next year if Crescent’s proposal is selected.
“Highest quality over highest quantity was our goal, and we wanted to propose something we knew we could execute in the near term and do something everyone would be proud of,” Leary said. “This is our hometown, and we believed a proven team of local developers who have and are successfully building in our community was essential to being able to deliver on the promise of Brooklyn Village.”
The meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Land Use and Environmental Services Agency offices, located at 2145 Suttle Ave.
Want to see the developers’ proposals?
You can see the plans online at https://mecklenburg.legistar.com. Click on the May 19 meeting agenda and follow the links in the agenda to download the three developers’ presentations.