Charlotte is considering three proposals for the former Eastland Mall site, but officials cautioned Thursday that actual redevelopment could still be a long way off.
The dead mall site has long vexed city officials trying to figure out its future. Previous plans — a movie studio, a Hispanic-themed mall — have all fallen through.
“We got excited. I think we got a little ahead of ourselves,” said Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, chair of the economic development committee, at a meeting Thursday. “This time, we’re gonna do our homework. We’re gonna make sure we vet all the projects.”
City staff said they won’t provide details of the plans they’re considering, but they’re in talks with three different groups about the potential redevelopment. The plans range from very conceptual to more detailed, neighborhood and business services director Pat Mumford said. He cautioned that the ideas are very preliminary and could change.
“As much as its had a bit of a checkered past in the last 10 years, it really is positioned in a great place,” Mumford said of the mall. “We don’t want to just hope and dream here.”
The three development concepts include:
▪ An urban, mixed-use development driven primarily by residential uses, including single-family houses. There would also be small shops, offices and restaurants. Think Baxter, in Fort Mill, S.C.
▪ An amateur sports facility-anchored development, with residential and commercial space that could include offices or a hotel.
▪ A “health and wellness” concept, with residential, commercial and educational space. This could include senior housing, walking trails and restaurants.
“We've got three solid proposals,” said Dimple Ajmera, the council member who represents the area.
Officials said they hope to vet the development concepts and bring a recommendation to City Council by January. Mumford said the city is still intent on finding one master developer to plan and develop the whole site, rather than breaking it into smaller pieces, as a consultant suggested.
A master developer could still sell different parts of the site to other builders, Mumford said. He said they won’t be asking for renderings and drawings of the potential developments.
Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell said she knows the site’s development has been a long-standing challenge. “I know that everyone wants us to move much faster,” said Campbell. “We want to move much faster...We finally, truly have people who are interested in developing this property.”
She said they have “very credible developers” interested in the site.
Eastland limped along for years as newer malls such as SouthPark and Northlake drew away customers and affluent customers moved out of the neighborhood around the mall. Belk closed in 2007, Dillard’s shuttered its store in 2008 and Sears shut down in 2009. The mall finally closed in 2010.
In 2012, Charlotte bought the 80-acre Eastland site in 2012 for $13.2 million and tore the mall down. Since then, it’s sat mostly empty, despite a succession of plans and consultants to revitalize the area.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bought 11.4 acres at the northeast corner of the site, with plans for a new K-8 language school. The city will give CMS back most of the $650,000 sale price in road and clean-up costs for the site.
In March, City Council approved a $145,000 contract with a Dallas-based consultant to look at why new development hasn’t come yet. The latest study found rents and for-sale prices probably aren’t high enough to support new private developments at Eastland Mall. The consultants said it would make more sense to break the site into smaller, incremental pieces rather than develop it all at once. Substantial support or subsidies of some kind from the city would probably be needed as well.
Ajmera said she’s hopeful that the city’s purchase of a building across the street from the former mall site, at 5516 Central Ave., will help the area. On Monday, City Council voted to spend $2.4 million to buy the vacant building, where it will consolidate more than 130 city information technology workers.