After months of uncertainty, historic Excelsior Club could soon have a new owner

The Excelsior Club, a historic landmark at the center of Charlotte’s black community for decades, could soon have a new owner.

Steve Robinson, a broker for New River Brokerage who is working with the building’s owner, state Rep. Carla Cunningham, confirmed in a text message that the property was under contract. Robinson declined to identify the buyer, other than that they were from California. He also did not provide the price.

The news, first reported by WFAE, comes after months of uncertainty over the fate of the club, which was listed for sale in April for $1.5 million. The building is in disrepair, and can be demolished at any point, though Robinson said that the buyer’s “primary inclination” appears to be to preserve it.

The club off of Beatties Ford Road closed in 2016. It opened in 1944 and was a hub of African American social and political life in Charlotte for decades.

Last month, it was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 most endangered historic places in the country. Dan Morrill, director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, said the list helped raise the profile of the club.

“In fact, the woman I talked to at the National Trust … she said well you know, going on the list, somebody in California might see it,” he said. “All the effort that we went to has paid off.”

Previous attempts to save the club have faltered or have been rejected by Cunningham. In October, Mecklenburg County commissioners rejected spending $4,000 on the exclusive option to buy the building. That option would have given the Historic Landmarks Commission a year to find a buyer or purchase the property.

The commissioners found the asking price of $350,000 to be too high when combined with the more than half a million dollars needed to repair it, former commissioner Bill James told the Observer at the time.

The minutes from closed session meetings show that commissioners, four of whom are newly elected, directed the county manager in March to negotiate with Cunningham for the purchase of the property. The offer was for $850,000, of which $150,000 came from The Foundation for the Carolinas, minutes from a meeting in May show.

Joel Ford, a former state senator, also gathered a group of investors to make an offer on the property for $1 million.

Both offers were rejected. Cunningham told the Observer that neither came close enough to her asking price of $1.5 million.

Morrill said that the new owner will have to work with the Historic Landmarks Commission for any plans for the property.

Community activist Colette Forrest, who organized various events at the Excelsior, said the new owner will need to be sensitive to the history of urban renewal and gentrification that has happened in Charlotte’s African American neighborhoods. She said the community needs to see the buyer’s track record too.

“When you pay that much money for a property, I don’t know how open you are to the community to tell you what to do,” she said.

The city council is set to discuss the Excelsior at its June 27 economic development committee meeting. Council member James Mitchell told the Observer this month that he hoped the city, county and other players could partner to purchase the site.

I’m a firm believer, if you sell it to an investor, they think profit and return on their investment,” he said in an interview Thursday. “When you sell it to a government entity, we think about people and a vision.”

Mitchell said that it is “not a done deal.”

I want us to keep moving until I get a call that says its been sold,” he said of the city’s efforts.

Jessica Davis, a community advocate who attended Johnson C. Smith University and lives in the area, said she’s optimistic that the community can work with the new owner.

“There’s always that apprehension when you have an outsider coming to your home,” she said. “You’re wondering who is this person, what are they going to do, why are they here. I want to give this buyer the benefit of the doubt until they show me otherwise.”

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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.