What’s next for Eastland Mall
For the first in years, Charlotte has ambitious proposals from developers who want to remake Eastland Mall - but now the city has to figure out which of the groups can pull off their plans.
The nearly 70-acre site has sat like an open scab on Charlotte's east side for nearly a decade. City Council hopes a master developer will be able to transform the bare concrete and asphalt into a thriving new "town center," with residences, shops, restaurants and public spaces.
City Council's economic development committee plans to discuss the plans again in May, and could recommend a master developer in June, with full council approval in July. That would only be the next step in a long process, however. A due diligence and negotiation period would follow, meaning redevelopment could be years away.
City Council heard from four development groups last month who want to redevelop the sites.
The plans range widely, from the Greater Charlotte Multiplex 4 Families - which would include a film studio, gathering places for teens, adults and senior citizens, childcare, a restaurant with rooftop views and an amphitheater - to Eastland Community Development Inc. That group would bring an FC Barcelona Soccer Academy facility, 1,000 residences, a community center, a hotel, 500,000 square feet of office space and a multicultural market called "Taste of Eastland."
Council member Larken Egleston said the group needs to whittle down the proposals to those that are most likely to actually succeed.
"Let's distill down to the ones we really think can pull this off," he said.
But the details of many key points are still vague, especially how much public money each of the developers would ask for to make their projects happen. All have indicated they would seek such funds.
The city could pay for infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks and parking, or pick up the tab for something more substantial, such as a theater or park. The costs could run to millions of dollars.
The developers also haven't been vetted to see if they have the financial resources to carry out their plans. Previous plans have fallen apart because the city came to believe the developers didn't have the wherewithal.
In 2014, the city cut ties with a group that was planning to build movie production studios on the Eastland site. The major reason was that the developer's plan wasn't judged to be financially viable -- a flop the city hopes to avoid repeating.
"There's a strong emphasis on the financial aspect," of the development plans, said Kevin Dick, Charlotte's economic development director.
'Our one shot'
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. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is building a K-8 magnet school on 11 acres of the site, which is opening next school year.
"We have an amenity depletion in the area," said council member Matt Newton, who represents the district that includes Eastland. Newton said he's concerned about clustering a large amount of low-income housing on the Eastland site, because the area needs households with higher incomes to attract more commercial development.
Another question is whether the city will require developers to include housing reserved for low-income residents at Eastland Mall.
"We have to figure out if there's a commitment to making sure housing is accessible," council member LaWana Mayfield said. Too much new development is displacing residents, she said.
Other council members were more skeptical.
"I question some of the wisdom of a substantial infill of diverse price-point housing," Newton said. "To attract commercial development and create an economic driver on the site, we have to be very cognizant of...undercutting (area median income)."
Council member Tariq Bokhari said knowing how much the city will be asked to pay for the development is "absolutely critical in a decision."
"I think it's incredibly important for us to understand what the city part is," said Bokhari. He said he does "It's also important that whoever gets chosen can actually raise the capital to do it...This is our one shot here to get this right, right now, and not put us back in the same position."