The south side of Stonewall Street is booming, with two new office buildings planned, hundreds of apartments under construction, as well as a Whole Foods adjacent to the Lynx Blue Line.
But the other side of Stonewall is a dead zone.
For three blocks on Stonewall, pedestrians walk past a loading dock of the Charlotte Convention Center and then a windowless wall of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Much of South Brevard Street offers a similar view of nothing.
Brian Leary of Crescent Communities, which is building the Stonewall Station mixed-use project across from the Convention Center, said the lack of “active uses” at the Convention Center is a product of its time. The center was built more than 20 years ago, and few could envision in 1995 that Stonewall Street would become the center of development.
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The NASCAR Hall doesn’t have the excuse of being the product of a bygone and less-informed era.
Brian Leary of Crescent Communities
But he’s puzzled why the city didn’t ensure the Hall of Fame – which opened in 2010 – was built differently. At the time, the city was requiring developers to include ground-level retail or other “active uses” in uptown buildings.
“The NASCAR Hall doesn’t have the excuse of being the product of a bygone and less-informed era,” Leary said. “These buildings built out of concrete, steel and glass and are not easily modified.”
He added: “Just as you can peg fashion to the years or decade they were ‘in style,’ so too can you with regard to architecture.”
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which manages the buildings, agrees the buildings could be more pedestrian-friendly. The CRVA and Charlotte Center City Partners are trying to find ways to enliven that side of the street.
The CRVA plans to spend more than $100 million renovating the Convention Center, which would include improvements to the center’s facade on Stonewall. When the renovations are finished, there will be more windows on the second floor of the center and possibly a pedestrian bridge along side the light-rail tracks.
CRVA chief executive Tom Murray said the windows and other open-air spaces on the second floor will put life into the back side of the building.
But he said the renovations can only do so much. An intractable problem is the center’s loading dock, which can’t be moved. That means that the view for pedestrians won’t change dramatically.
“We will still have a long wall, and there won’t be a lot of (pedestrian) access at ground level because quite frankly that’s the entrance to the underground road system,” Murray said.
Cheryl Myers of Center City Partners said one possibility is to create public art on the wall.
“We think there are ways we can make it less cold and stark,” she said.
The Convention Center was built before a surge in development. But when the hall was built, uptown was booming.
When the Hall of Fame was planned in 2008, the city’s zoning code required that at least half of the building’s sidewalk frontage be an active use. That could be a store or a restaurant, or even windows to let people on the sidewalk look inside the hall.
But the city asked the City Council for a zoning waiver, which was approved. Instead of windows, the hall has large posters.
Developers sometimes complain that requiring active uses can cost them money because there isn’t always a market for a store or restaurant inside a development.
When the hall was being built, the city and CRVA were focused on the building bringing in hundreds of thousands of tourists – not on whether the 150,000-square-foot building would be friendly to people on the sidewalk.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who helped the city build the hall, referred questions about its design and the zoning waivers to the CRVA.
While the CRVA wants to improve the Convention Center, it doesn’t have plans to remake the Brevard Street and Stonewall Street facades of the hall. The tourism authority said it will continue to bring public events to the plaza outside the hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The hall has hosted the open-air ice skating rink during the Christmas holidays.