Charlotte inched closer than it’s been for years to enacting a plan for the long-vacant Eastland Mall site, as economic development staff said Monday that they’ve selected a team to redevelop the city-owned tract.
But officials were quick to point out there are still plenty of questions, months of negotiations and potential pitfalls for any redevelopment to overcome.
“We’re really at step one in this process of making a recommendation and establishing what is the vision,” said assistant city manager Tracy Dodson. “It’s going to take some time... There’s a lot of pieces that still need to be fit in.”
City staff is recommending a partnership led by Charlotte-based Crosland Southeast, architecture firm Odell and Eastland Community Development to redevelop the 69-acre site that’s sat empty for more than eight years on Central Avenue near Albemarle Road. The city has studied how to revitalize the mall site for years, pouring money and staff time into studies of the area and attempts to lure developers.
While officials emphasized that site plans are preliminary and likely to change, a plan presented this spring by Eastland Community Development showed a mixed-use project that would feature an FC Barcelona Soccer Academy facility, 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.”
Three other development teams who made proposals to the city were passed over because of risks and uncertainty with their proposals or financing, city staff said.
The City Council’s economic development committee is expected to vote on the developer in September. The full City Council could approve negotiations in October, and after that the city would negotiate a detailed development agreement that could be ready in spring 2019.
“This is not over, but at least it’s starting,” said council member Larken Egleston. Even if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t in view, he quipped, “We can start to have an idea of where the tunnel is.”
Eastland Mall closed in 2010, after 35 years as the premier shopping destination in east Charlotte. The mall struggled as anchor tenants like Belk and Sears started closing in 2007. The city of Charlotte bought the shuttered mall in 2013 for $13.2 million and razed the buildings, leaving an empty expanse of concrete and asphalt.
Several plans to revitalize the mall site fell through in the ensuing years. Those included plans to open a movie studio, build a new entertainment district centered on a fake ski slope, and convert Eastland into a Hispanic-themed mall.
Despite the recommendation for Crosland Southeast/Odell/Eastland Community Development, significant questions remain. Those include how much in public subsidies might be required, what the detailed plans for the development will look like and how long it will take to build. The development will require extensive new infrastructure, such as storm drains, streets and sidewalks, and who pays for those will be a point of negotiation.
Some members could be opposed to offering more incentives. LaWana Mayfield said she doesn’t think the city should put more money into the site.
“If we’re going to move in this direction, I see it as an as-is site, not coming back for additional funds,” she said.
Council member Tariq Bokhari said he doesn’t want the city to get too far down the road in negotiations only to find that he developer wants more money than the city is prepared to provide.
“We’ve almost gotten to the starting line. The real risks and real challenges are to come,” he said. “We could get all the way to spring 2019 and realize we don’t have the appetite for it, and be back to square one where we are now.”
Staff and other council members said they were confident that any issues could be worked out.
“We have to start somewhere,” said City Council member Matt Newton, who represents the area. “We can’t be afraid to move forward, even with some questions unanswered.”
Community members at the meeting said they were encouraged that the city appears to be settling on a developer, even if it’s the first step in a long process.
“Developers are fighting over Eastland. People want to do this,” said Louise Woods, a board member of the CharlotteEAST group. “They’re beginning to recognize the value of the area....I’m pleased. I think it’s a very positive step.”
One portion of the site already has some new life: Charlotte East Language Academy, a new kindergarten-8th grade school with classes taught in English and Spanish, opens Monday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bought 11 acres of the former Eastland property for $650,000 in 2016 and built the school, which combines a neighborhood attendance zone and magnet.