One of these plans could save the old Eastland Mall site, as the city tries new ideas

What’s next for Eastland Mall

Things haven't changed much since this 2016 video about developing Eastland Mall. The site of the former Eastland Mall at Central Avenue and Albemarle Road is still waiting for development.
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Things haven't changed much since this 2016 video about developing Eastland Mall. The site of the former Eastland Mall at Central Avenue and Albemarle Road is still waiting for development.

For the first time in years, developers with national scope and deep pockets are interested in the former Eastland Mall site, which has sat empty and barren in east Charlotte since other plans to revive it failed.

The site has bedeviled successive Charlotte City Councils for years, ever since Eastland began its precipitous plunge into oblivion starting in the mid-2000s. On Monday, the council's economic development committee heard proposals from four development groups about their ideas to build on the site, and they plan to select one of the developers in the coming months.

"This is the biggest issue facing our district," said council member Matt Newton, a Democrat who represents the area.

But the ultimate fate of what was once an iconic mall that drew hordes of young Charlotteans to its indoor ice skating rink remains unclear. The development proposals contained sharply varying levels of detail, and it's too early to say whether all the developers would have the financial wherewithal to pull off such a big project. Even if everything goes according to plan, it will still be years before the 69 acres of bare asphalt and concrete are transformed into a new community.

The original plan was to make a recommendation by April 26. But council members want more public input, so that recommendation will likely be delayed. The city is still intent on finding one master developer for the project, despite a recommendation from a consultant last year that Charlotte try to break up the land and pursue developers for smaller projects.

A conceptual plan for redeveloping the Eastland Mall site, centered around an FC Barcelona Soccer Academy. Eastland Community Development, Inc.

Eastland Mall demolition in 2012. Observer archives.

Also Monday, none of the development groups would say how much public money they would ask for to complete their projects, though all indicated at least some support would be necessary. The city could also agree to reimburse the developer for the roads, sidewalks, parking and other infrastructure it builds. No one knows how much that might cost, though it would likely be millions of dollars. A more substantial investment could be for the city to pay for other common areas a developer might build, such as a plaza or a theater.

Republican council member Tariq Bokhari said he wants more information about how much taxpayers would have to subsidize the project.

"I don't have enough information to answer that," he said. "All the details are vague."

He added: "The broader questions is what role should we actually be playing in this? I wonder, how much of us trying to find a vision that we all love has prevented anything from happening at this point?"

Three of the four plans envision the kind of large, mixed-use development that's become popular in recent decades, with residences, shops, restaurants, parks, sports complexes or arts developments. One is a more community-centered vision, focused on gathering spaces and film studios, and would only occupy part of the site.

Eastland struggled as competing malls such as SouthPark and Northlake siphoned away business. Its anchor stores closed one after another: Belk in 2007, Dillard’s in 2008 and Sears in 2009. The mall closed in 2010. In 2012, Charlotte bought the 80-acre Eastland site for $13.2 million and tore the building down.

Previous attempts to build at the site stretching along Central Avenue have fallen apart, including a plan to bring a Hispanic-themed shopping mall or build a movie production studio. One plan has panned out so far: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is building a K-8 magnet on the site.

Here's a summary of the four plans:

  • Eastland Community Development Inc., along with the Fallon Company, Odell Architects, Atrium Health and others would bring a mixed-use project to the site with an FC Barcelona Soccer Academy facility. The plan would include 1,000 "millennial style" residences, a community center, a "millennial brand" hotel, 500,000 square feet of office space and a multicultural market called "Taste of Eastland."
  • Greater Charlotte Multiplex 4 Families would only develop 10 to 15 acres of the site, with a plan that includes a film studio, gathering places for teens, adults and senior citizens, childcare, birthday and event spaces, a restaurant with rooftop views and an amphitheater. Donna Reed, who was involved with the unsuccessful Studio Charlotte movie theater proposal, is behind this idea. "It's bringing so much of what East Charlotte needs and what we deserve," she said.
  • Crosland Southeast and Jim Gross Company have teamed up for a proposal. The developers — responsible for projects such as Waverly and the Arlington "Pink Building" condos, respectively — said they would focus on for-sale housing targeting millennial buyers, along with retail, though they didn't offer specific numbers. "The residential component is the overriding focus of this development," said Gross. "All the other uses will come." Tim Sittema, of Crosland Southeast, said it's important to start moving on the long-dormant site. "It's time to get going," he said. "We've got to demonstrate progress, and soon."
  • Legacy Family Group is planning a development centered on a 325,000 square-foot civic center with a new YMCA and an arts theater. The development would also include almost 800 residences, ranging from age-restricted apartments to single-family houses to loft apartments, along with shops, restaurants and offices.

Charlotte's economic director, Kevin Dick, said he will likely assemble a team of staff members to vet the proposals and make a recommendation to the council's economic development committee. The city hasn't required that the site include affordable housing, which has been a council priority in recent years.

"That's subject to negotiation," Dick said.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; @ESPortillo