Developers unveil latest plans for old Eastland Mall site to wary residents

Community members got a glimpse at the latest plans to reshape the long-empty Eastland Mall site this week, but developers expect it will be over a year before dirt starts moving on the site.

Tim Sittema, managing partner at Crosland Southeast, one of the firms leading the development, unveiled a plan to residents at a public forum Wednesday that would turn the vacant site into a sports entertainment complex, homes, green space, retail and office space.

But some residents fear that the development could change the area’s culture and spur gentrification.

The mall closed in 2010, after struggling to compete with nearby shopping centers like SouthPark and Northlake. Its anchor stores like Belk, Sears and Dillard’s had closed a few years before that.

The city bought the 80-acre mall for $13.2 million and demolished it. Now, city leaders want to turn the land into a destination for east Charlotte. But previous plans to redevelop the site have fallen through.

Last year, the city selected the partnership led by Sittema’s firm, Crosland Southeast, to develop the site, along with architecture firm Odell and Eastland Community Development. The developers will need to seek a rezoning request from the city. They’ll also likely need additional public money.

If that is approved, Sittema estimates that the first phase of construction could start at the end of next year.

“If this development is a hundred-yard race, just to put it in perspective, we’re still at about the 10-yard line,” Sittema told the crowd. In the end, he said around 500 families would likely live in the development, between the for-sale homes and the apartments.

Looking for tenants

At the meeting, Sittema acknowledged that not all potential development partners see the vision for the site yet. He said the goal is to “transform” the area, and wants to see homes with high-quality architecture.

They were considering what Eastland is today, not what Eastland is going to be tomorrow,” he said.

Still, he said they have been able to convince some homebuilders of what the area will become.

The developers also hope to build a sports entertainment complex, which will host regional tournaments and attract visitors from out-of-state.

The plans also call for an anchor like a grocery store or a medical facility. Sittema said they’re in conversations with a few grocers, though they have not found any lead tenants yet. A Harris Teeter supermarket once located on the site closed in 2006.

And the goal is to line Central Avenue with shops and restaurants, as well as office space.

Gentrification concerns

Crosland is behind developments like Birkdale Village in Huntersville. Sittema said because east Charlotte hasn’t seen as much economic opportunity, it’s been a tougher sell to attract companies to the Eastland Mall site.

At the community meeting, residents expressed a mix of praise and criticism, but many raised concerns about affordability and gentrification.

Zhenia Martinez, an east Charlotte resident, told the developers she thinks they’re trying to turn the east side into something it’s not.

“It seems like we’re trying to construct a place where people from Ballantyne feel comfortable coming,” she said. In an interview, Martinez said it looks like they’re trying to “make the east side white again” instead of marketing what the area already has to offer.

Martinez also said the developers could have done more to reach out to minority and immigrant communities because she heard about Wednesday’s meeting through a Facebook group.

“As much as I don’t want it, I think growth is going to happen,” she said. But Martinez thinks a change of culture among people who make these decisions needs to happen as well.

Sittema said his firm is mindful of the changes that the new investment will bring to the area. “Our goal is certainly not gentrification,” he said.

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