Historic Excelsior Club up for sale. It’s closed, in disrepair and might be demolished.

Historic Excelsior Club remembers community support in 2017 foreclosure announcement

Charlotte's historic Excelsior Club has survived economic downturns, racial upheaval and changing ownership in its over 70 years of existence. It closed in 2016 and is now up for sale.
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Charlotte's historic Excelsior Club has survived economic downturns, racial upheaval and changing ownership in its over 70 years of existence. It closed in 2016 and is now up for sale.

The former Excelsior Club, a major African American landmark in Charlotte that once hosted the likes of Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, was just put up for sale after an attempt to save it failed last year.

Before it shut down in 2016, the Excelsior Club on Beatties Ford Road was an exclusive social club for African American professionals. But this week, its owner, state Rep. Carla Cunningham, put it up for sale. It’s listed for $1.5 million on New River Brokerage’s Facebook page. County records show the building and its adjacent lots add up to around half an acre.

Mecklenburg County commissioners rejected a proposal in October to save the property, which is a designated historic landmark.

Now, the club’s fate is uncertain. Steve Robinson, Cunningham’s real estate broker, said he’s seeking buyers who might be willing to make the investment required to keep the property intact. He said he’s reached out to several local athletes.

Last year, Cunningham filed paperwork to allow for demolition. She told the Observer this week it would take close to $400,000 to restore the property, which had numerous code violations and was in need of repair.

After June 12, Cunningham, or whoever the buyer is, could tear down the building. The city’s code enforcement officials have already deemed it unsafe, she said.

“People say they want to save things, but do they want to invest in a club?” she said Cunningham asked. “Because the turnaround for you getting your profit off of it could be years.”

‘Emotional resonance’

The club opened in 1944, and over the years it was a hub of African American social and political life.

Politicians also campaigned there, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Locals celebrated there when Barack Obama was elected as the first African American president.

“It has tremendous meaning, emotional resonance, with the local African American community,” said Dan Morrill, director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. “Especially those who were part of the era of racial segregation.”

Courtesy of New River Brokerage

The deal that county commissioners rejected last year would’ve given the landmarks commission a year to either find a buyer or purchase the property itself. Then-county commissioner Bill James told the Observer at the time that the purchase price of $350,000 was too high given the cost of the repairs.

Cunningham said she felt that she was treated unfairly by the landmarks commission.

“I think they just thought I was vulnerable because of the community pressure,” she said. “I just don’t think that they viewed me as a businesswoman.”

Rep. Carla Cunningham .

Morrill said the historic landmarks commission had no intention of treating Cunningham differently than any other owner they work with.

After the county commissioners’ vote, the landmarks commission offered to do an economic analysis of what it would take to preserve the property. But that required a commitment that the property would not be sold while the study was underway.

Cunningham did not agree.

She said as a politician, if she later decided to sell and the property was not preserved, it would appear as though she did not keep her word. She said the public viewed her as responsible for the club’s demise, but that most people didn’t understand the investment that would’ve been required for her to restore it.

“As a business person you deal with your losses and you move on,” she said. “I think that’s what people need to understand.”

Danielle Chemtob covers economic growth and development for the Observer. She’s a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a California transplant.