Mecklenburg commissioners consider redeveloping county-owned sites uptown

03/11/2014 9:01 PM

03/13/2014 6:24 AM

Mecklenburg County commissioners jump-started – again – on Tuesday a planning process to redevelop four county-owned sites that could reshape uptown Charlotte.

The parcels include much of Second Ward, including the 5-acre Bob Walton Plaza site, the 11-acre Hal Marshall Center site in First Ward and an acre of Third Ward at Fourth and Graham streets near Romare Bearden Park and the soon-to-open BB&T Ballpark.

Commissioners spent two hours listening to development consultants from HR@A Advisors Inc. of New York City discuss options for each of the four sites and get feedback from the board on direction in devising a plan of action.

The county for years has wanted to redevelop Second Ward into a mixed-used development that would be called Brooklyn Village, a tribute to the mostly African-American community that was torn down during urban renewal in the late 1960s. The section now includes government buildings, the county’s 20-year-old aquatic center, the shuttered former Education Center and the little-used 5.5-acre Marshall Park, which was dedicated in 1973.

The project was to include a hotel, affordable housing units and market-rate condos, offices and restaurants. After Charlotte-based Spectrum Properties dropped out last summer, commissioners authorized county staff to conduct a national search for a new developer.

Mecklenburg also has plans to move county offices out of the Hal Marshall Center on North Tryon Street and Bob Walton Plaza on Stonewall Street by 2020, and hopes to redevelop those sites.

In 2007, the county was ready to sell the Hal Marshall site to a developer for a mixed-use village, but the deal never transpired and plans fell through.

Board Chair Trevor Fuller urged commissioners to move forward on creating new plans.

“We have an opportunity to be visionaries, to be forward-leaning,” Fuller said.

Redeveloping the parcels would reflect the board’s renewed emphasis on economic development, Fuller said. “We have an opportunity to put that into practice. I think we ought to seize it.”

Candace Damon, vice chairman of HR@A, said the time is right to revive efforts to redevelop the sites, as Charlotte emerges from the recession with a strong center city.

She and colleague Kate Wittels painted a prosperous picture of uptown, with significant residential growth of more young professionals than “empty-nesters” and a continued demand for more hotel rooms.

Damon called uptown a “strong live, work and play” center.

“It’s a healthy central business district,” she said.

Wittels said the board could choose to either look at selling the sites for immediate gains, or consider hiring a master developer who would create plans to develop the sites.

She said Charlotte is short on developers who could pull off developing sites the size of Hal Marshall and Brooklyn Village. The county could hire a national developer to partner with local ones, Wittels suggested.

Commissioners appeared ready to move on those two sites first.

Commissioners Dumont Clarke and Matthew Ridenhour said uptown needs another large hotel, and the Walton site might make sense for that. Mark Hahn, Mecklenburg director of real estate services, also suggested the Walton site could be combined with adjacent city-owned property for a larger mixed-use development.

County Manager Dena Diorio said she heard a desire from the board to pursue the developments. She said HR@A will be back in a few months with recommendations on how to proceed with planning and the names of master developers.

“We have these really valuable assets in uptown, and we want to make sure we use them in the most efficient way possible,” Diorio said. “The board wants to establish their identity in economic development, and this is really a great opportunity to do that and have an impact on the vision and future of the city of Charlotte.”

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