Bank of America is one of the largest landholders on the north side of uptown Charlotte, and the bank is mulling its options for the undeveloped property it owns along North Tryon Street.
Chief operations and technology officer Cathy Bessant is the chair of the North Tryon Advisory Group overseeing the implementation of a new plan for the area, which envisions a boom on the scale of the one that's transformed Stonewall Street and South Tryon Street in recent years.
The bank has been a leader in the planning process, now underway for almost a year and a half.
"We want Charlotte as our headquarters into the future, so looking at the parts of the city where there are development opportunities just says we want to play a role in that destiny," said Bessant. The bank employs about 15,000 workers in Charlotte.
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A public meeting is scheduled for April 19, the first large, open forum to discuss what the plan looks like and what it means. It will be at 5 p.m. at the Hal Marshall Services Center on North Tryon Street.
The plan for the next few decades calls for pedestrian passageways and smaller streets bisecting large blocks and creating a pedestrian-friendly zone full of shops, restaurants and other appealing features at street level, along with public art and the ability to close streets for festivals and other events. It would be a sweeping transformation of an area that still has more than its share of surface parking lots, government buildings and underused land.
Bessant said the bank is pursuing options for the parcels it owns - one at Seventh Street where the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police substation is located and one next to the McColl Center and Charlotte Ballet - that don't necessarily involve building more office space. Bank of America agreed to lease about 500,000 square feet in a new, 33-story tower under construction on South Tryon Street (at the former site of the Charlotte Observer) that will serve its expansion and consolidation needs for the foreseeable future, Bessant said.
"I don't necessarily see more office space" for the bank in the North Tryon corridor, said Bessant, who calls herself a graduate of the "(Hugh) McColl Development University."
She said they're still looking at possible partners for their sites. "In part, that's why we haven't made some big or bold announcement now," said Bessant.
One possibility: Some of the land could be donated to an affordable housing developer and used for housing meant for lower-income renters uptown.
"We know that affordable housing is very important in this mix," she said. "It could be that the donation of land makes the potential for an affordable housing development work."
Some early components of the changes envisioned in the North Tryon plan are underway.
Restoration has begun at the decrepit Carolina Theatre building, as well as construction on a new Intercontinental Hotel. The Main Library at Sixth and Tryon streets will be replaced with a newer, more modern facility, and a coalition of property holders including Bank of America, the Charlotte Housing Authority, the city, the county and the library system are seeking a master developer for two blocks between Sixth and Eighth streets.
That project would include a hotel, office buildings, affordable housing and new shops and restaurants. The group issued a request for master developers this month, and plans to select one by the fall.
Some initiatives and working groups end up producing pretty plans that sit on shelves. Bessant said she's aware of that risk, but doesn't think it will happen to the North Tryon group.
"I would be ridiculous not to have that worry, but I also thought about that a lot before I decided that I would agree to take it on," said Bessant. "I'm confident of success."
Still, she acknowledged that bringing more projects off the drawing board and into real life quickly is key.
"Things moving on the ground are so important," said Bessant. "There's got to be some urgency...There's nothing that motivates people like dirt and development."