As Charlotte grows, officials are ready to plot a new vision for center city

Charlotte has changed dramatically since the last vision plan was written for its center city: There was no BB&T Ballpark or Romare Bearden Park. The strip of Stonewall Street along Interstate 277 was mostly vacant land. There were no corporate towers underway in South End.

Nonprofit group Charlotte Center City Partners, the city and the county are rewriting the plan for the development of center city, an area they define as uptown and the neighborhoods within about a three-mile radius.

The groups officially launched the 18-month long public engagement process for the 2040 Vision Plan Thursday night at Camp North End. By the end of the process, they’ll come up with a draft plan, and eventually it will need to be approved by City Council.

The city developed its first master plan in the 1960s, called the Odell Center City Plan. Michael Smith, president and CEO of Center City Partners, said the 50-year tradition helps provide a blueprint for long-term development.

The Center City 2020 Vision Plan was adopted by City Council in 2011.

Since then Charlotte’s population has grown by around 19%, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates. Thousands of new apartment units have opened up, many of them along the LYNX Blue Line and its northern extension, which opened last year. Major corporations like Honeywell and Lowe’s are bringing thousands of employees to the city.

But with that growth, the city has grappled with issues like traffic, a shortage of affordable housing and the impacts of gentrification as neighborhoods change rapidly.

“We are a city that is growing,” Smith said. “And we need to be very intentional about it.”

At the kickoff at Camp North End, residents shared their ideas on Post-it notes about what they’d like to see in the city. Affordable housing, parks, public art and transportation were common themes.

Debra Franklin, a bus driver for the Charlotte Area Transit System, attended the event. She said she likes that Charlotte is looking to its future.

“I like a city that’s willing to change and not stuck in the past,” Franklin said.

The plan’s steering committee is being led by Johnson C. Smith University’s President Clay Armbrister and Jennifer Appleby, president and chief creative officer at Wray Ward, a Charlotte-based marketing and communications firm.

The area around JCSU is changing rapidly, with the planned extension of the Gold Line streetcar through the west side. Armbrister, who became president of JCSU in 2018, said the school is independently developing its own master plan.

“As a major anchor institution in that area, we obviously want to be a part of that (development),” he said.

Simultaneously, the city of Charlotte is working on writing its 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city hasn’t had one overall plan for its growth since 1975. Mecklenburg County is also rewriting its Park and Recreation master plan.

Smith said the goal is for the three plans to complement each other.

Having a plan gives the city an advantage in recruiting major employers, developers and investors, Smith said.

These plans do not sit on the shelf,” he said.

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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.