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A blank parking garage wall will give rise to one of Charlotte’s largest artworks

A huge concrete parking deck might not seem like the most appealing canvas for an artist, but a Charlotte-based developer is trying to change that with a new development uptown.

Crescent Communities has commissioned one of the city’s largest pieces of public art, to be installed at the Novel Stonewall Station project adjacent to the light rail. The development includes 459 apartments, a Whole Foods planning to open next year and two hotels.

“We really needed to kind of have that wow factor, where if you weren’t a Whole Foods shopper, you weren’t a resident, you still experienced Stonewall Station,” said Michael Tubridy, managing director of multifamily development for Crescent.

Marc Fornes, a Brooklyn-based artist who creates whimsical structures carefully engineered from thin pieces of metal, is designing the piece, called “Wanderwall.” When installed, it will cover 18,000 square feet of the parking deck and be comprised of 18,000 pieces of perforated aluminum attached to the deck like a skin.

“The challenge intrigued us,” said Fornes. Fabrication and testing is underway now. The pieces will be shipped from a factory in Indiana, with installation planned for early next year.

That process will take about four weeks, and the structure will be self-supporting, not attached to brackets or other building systems.

Crescent executives said they’re not quite ready to release a final rendering of the project, as they’re still tinkering with the final details. Picture a wavy, corrugated metal mesh, painted with shades of blues and greens, looking a bit like a cross between the mechanical and organic worlds.

“You might see a graph if you come from the finance world,” said Fornes. Or you might see something organic, or a weather pattern.

“It's made to evolve to different qualities of light,” said Fornes, who has exhibited and installed work at the Guggenheim in New York, Art Basel in Miami and a host of parks in Europe and North America.

Carla Hanzal, vice president of public art at the Arts & Science Council in Charlotte, said the piece will blend disciplines.

“It really does integrate art and architecture,” she said. The ASC isn’t contributing to the Crescent-funded project financially, but it did help select the artist. Wanderwall will be among the largest pieces of public art in Charlotte, joining other big pieces like “Ascendus,” the 60-foot-tall sculpture outside Charlotte’s airport, and “Metamorphosis,” the shape-shifting steel head at Whitehall Technology Park.

“It’s extremely large,” Hanzal said. “It can really change the landscape.”

Garage screening is required, so why not get creative?

Novel Stonewall Station is next to a light rail station, but it still includes a 1,350-space, above-ground parking deck meant to accommodate the apartments, Whole Foods and hotels. There’s a city ordinance requiring parking decks to be screened with metal louvers or grates.

As the parking deck went up, it became clear to Crescent that screening wouldn’t be enough to blunt its impact. Crescent executives said one goal of the new project was to “close the gap” between uptown and South End created by the Interstate 277 canyon.

“Putting a 10-story parking deck into the view is the absolute opposite of closing the gap,” said Tubridy. “It’s creating a wall, a horrible wall, of parked cars.”

At the time, Crescent was already planning to spend about $1 million on a piece of outdoor art for the project, possibly something with a web of lights. But they worried the effect wouldn’t impressive in the daytime – and it wouldn’t solve their parking deck problem.

They decided to spend a bit more and solve both problems at once. Crescent executives declined to say how much Wanderwall will cost, beyond “a lot.”

For developers, it’s not all about supporting artwork and brightening up the city. There’s a practical benefit too: The buzz and attention that comes with a colorful facade can help with leasing, especially in the age of Instagram and selfies.

That’s been the case in Phoenix, where a new Crescent apartment building with a huge painting covering one side of the building has become known for the art. People routinely stop to take photos in front of the colorful riot of flowers painted on the entrance to the parking deck.

“Our Phoenix project is known as the apartment with the mural on it,” said Aldo Muccia, vice president of brand for Crescent.

Along the Blue Line, there’s art going up on another Crescent project. A football field-sized mural is underway on the parking deck at Novel NoDa, a 344-unit apartment building that’s now leasing.

“Obviously that helps with your leasing,” said Benjamin Watt, director of marketing for Crescent, “but we see it as much more of a community focal point.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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