Plans to revive uptown’s emptiest quarter move forward, as fate of park still debated

A conceptual rendering of Brooklyn Village and its park.
A conceptual rendering of Brooklyn Village and its park.

More than a year after Mecklenburg County commissioners agreed to sell 17 acres of prime uptown land in Second Ward to developers, officials say they’ve hammered out the deal’s major terms.

County commissioners voted to approve the terms Tuesday, though a final development agreement is still under negotiation. Supporters of Marshall Park – set to be sold as part of the plan – told the commissioners they understand the plans are far along, but they’re still hopeful a change can save the park.

The deal would set the stage for one of the biggest redevelopment projects in the county’s history, an ambitious attempt to draw thousands of new residents and breathe life back into a part of town that was bulldozed decades ago. Called Brooklyn, the African-American community of more than 1,000 families in Second Ward was demolished in the 1960s and ’70s as part of an “urban renewal” program.

The 5.5-acre Marshall Park, uptown’s largest, would be replaced with a smaller park of at least 1.6 acres. That would be part of 2.5 acres of total open space in the new development.

“For this city to destroy some of the green space it has now strikes me as unthinkable,” said Murray Whisnant, a Charlotte architect who addressed commissioners Tuesday. He recently wrote a report called “Please don’t destroy Marshall Park” that advocates preservation of the space and reconfiguration of large parts of it to produce renewable energy.

Most of the county commissioners were skeptical of preserving the park. Member Vilma Leake – who said she was so excited about the plan she felt “like I’m birthing a baby, I’m pregnant” – said more housing is needed, instead of more park space.

“The people who are doing most of the talking never lived in Brooklyn,” she said. “And yet today, they tell us how it should be. That bothers me. … The very people … talking about Marshall Park helped put us out of Brooklyn.”

“Are we going to end up with more functional space?” asked commissioner Trevor Fuller. “Given the way Marshall Park looks today, intuitively that has to be the case. … I just don’t want people to get so bent out of shape about what the final acreage is.”

Said commissioner George Dunlap: “Half of what’s there right now is a body of water that we don’t use.”

“Marshall Park will disappear into the dustbin of history, which is a good thing,” Commissioner Bill James said. “It’s disgusting.”

Pat Cotham dissented and voted against the proposal.

“If we’re adding people, we should add more park,” she said. “It’s going to be a sad day when they cut those big trees down.”

In Brooklyn’s place went government buildings, Marshall Park, the now-shuttered Board of Education building and the Bob Walton Plaza building. The sterile government quarter is largely empty after 5 p.m. and on weekends, with long stretches of surface parking lots and flocks of geese and ducks.

Mecklenburg County agreed to sell the land to BK Partners last summer. In addition to the sale price of $32.7 million for the land, the developers would be responsible for funding much of the infrastructure and public spaces. BK Partners is led by New York-based Peebles Corp., Stantec and Charlotte-based Conformity Corp.

According to the latest terms of the deal, the redevelopment plan calls for:

1,243Housing units, mostly apartments – including up to 115 affordable units restricted to people making below the area’s median income.

252,000Square feet of shops and restaurants, including a future grocery store.

280Hotel rooms.

712,400Square feet of office space.

It will be years before the redevelopment is completed. Once the sale is finalized, more detailed planning will follow before the start of actual construction, which would run through the mid-2020s in three phases.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo