When the Charlotte Chamber’s SouthPark chapter decided about five years ago to start conferring a Citizen of the Year Award on the area’s most exemplary leaders, it wanted to set the bar high.
No one was surprised when the group picked H. Allen Tate Jr. as the first recipient.
Tate, who died Monday at 84, built a sturdy reputation and legacy during his five-plus decades in business in Charlotte. As a builder of neighborhoods, a seller of homes, a chairman of the Charlotte Chamber board and chairman of the planning commission, he helped steer the city’s transformation from the 1950s well into the 21st century.
His thriving real estate company lives on as a testament to the industriousness of the Gaffney, S.C., native who started out with a one-man real estate office uptown in 1957 and built it into a firm that in 2014 ranked No. 1 in the Carolinas for total closed sales and No. 7 nationally among independently owned, non-franchised companies.
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It is impossible to explain the decades-long surge of residential growth in south Charlotte without mentioning Tate’s role. He foresaw the SouthPark area’s potential way back in the 1950s, when the land where SouthPark Mall sits today was still former Gov. Cameron Morrison’s farm, a place where people brought their kids for Sunday picnics and to see the cows.
About a decade before the mall opened, he and his partner, John Crosland, built what is now Sharon Corners shopping center. He would go on to build about 30 neighborhoods, many of them in the SouthPark area.
He took a keen interest in civic matters, serving as president of everything from the Jaycees to the Charlotte Chamber board, as well as joining several city-county government consolidation study committees, multiple state and regional transportation panels and the boards of WTVI and Central Piedmont Community College.
He served on the planning board from 1965 to 1980 – including spending a decade as chairman. That gave him a key role in development at a time when the neighborhood movement was evolving and key decisions, such as the route of Interstate 485, were being debated.
He proved to be a key voice in beating back concerns from neighborhood group leaders who wanted the outerbelt built closer to town. They feared it would shift growth toward the edges of the county. Tate wanted it south of N.C. 51, though not much else was there at the time. He felt a closer-in loop would have been, as he later put it, “a collar around the city … it would have forced the city to build up instead of out.”
His outspokenness and high profile made him a lightning rod for neighborhood activists’ and others concerned about real estate developers’ influence on civic affairs. A 1979 editorial marking the end of his time on the planning board said that he served “long and well.” It also noted that he was a “strong, sometimes stubborn chairman whose assertiveness seemed to be increasingly irritating to elected officials who disagreed with him on specific issues.”
Still, even critics found him to be a gentleman. He was part of a generation of business leaders in Charlotte whose personal ambitions mixed with a sense of civic duty toward Charlotte – men like retailer and former mayor John Belk, whose name adorns a stretch of the Interstate 277 loop around uptown.
So, it was fitting that the final section of I-485 – a road of such tremendous importance to Charlotte – was named for Tate, yet another businessman whose impact on the city’s growth has proven to be profound.
Back in 1994, as the first leg of the outerbelt opened, Tate was paying tribute to the city’s late planning director, Bill McIntyre, when he said: “I am reminded of the saying, he who serves well in his time, serves well forever.”
In the eyes of many who knew and worked with him, the same can be said of Allen Tate.