Pearl Street Park’s fate is latest wrinkle in midtown redevelopment

Pearl Street Park
Pearl Street Park

A major mixed-use project on Kenilworth Avenue that would require a complicated dance of land swaps is still encountering opposition from youth sports leagues that use Pearl Street Park.

Charlotte-based developer Pappas Properties plans to build a new office building for the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association, which owns the 5.4-acre site on Kenilworth Avenue near Morehead Street, adjacent to Pearl Street Park.

The company also plans to develop offices, hotel and retail on the site, in addition to a new street that would connect along the edge of the park property to connect Kenilworth to McDowell Street via Pearl Park Way and Baxter Street.

The almost-9-acre park is a popular site for youth sports, especially soccer. Pulling off the development will require a series of land swaps between the city, Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte Housing Authority and the developers to create the right-of-way for the new street and arrange parcels for optimal development.

Although it will result in the loss of smaller Baxter Street Park nearby, the deal will ultimately add almost an acre to Pearl Street Park.

But some parents whose kids play in sports leagues at the park are concerned about access, parking and safety at the new site.

They’re worried it will be hard to get to and that there won’t be enough places to park. The Charlotte Junior Soccer Foundation and the Myers Park Trinity Little League have been urging parents to email county commissioners about their concerns.

The groups paid for the fields and lights two decades ago, and they’re worried the development will harm the park.

“We built those fields,” said Kip Kiser, a board member of the Myers Park Trinity Little League and Charlotte Junior Soccer Foundation, in November. “We paid for those lights. We brought the dirt in, and we have done a lot of stuff. We clean that park up all the time.”

At Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners said they’ve been deluged with dozens or even hundreds of emails about the park. County staff presented details on the project and why they support it and think it will ultimately enhance the park.

“It just concerns me,” said commissioner Pat Cotham.

She has also raised concerns about the reduction in size of Marshall Park uptown, which is set to be redeveloped as part of the Brooklyn Village project. “I’m thinking about the future, and the families and children. I keep hearing we’re reducing parks.”

Jim Garges, director of the county’s park and recreation department, said the new road would offer on-street parking and a drop-off area and that the county is negotiating with nearby property owners such as CHA for parking. He also said the park won’t be shut down during construction, even though access might be disrupted.

“There’s no intention of this park being offline for these users for a two year period. That’s not going to happen,” Garges said. “The other thing you don't want to do is turn your park into a Wal-Mart, a sea of parking.”

Commissioner Ella Scarborough said she’s worried about poor planning creating an “oops” that permanently damages the park.

“When ‘oops’ happens, you can’t undo it,” she said. The county commissioners and City Council are still considering the deal, along with a tax increment grant Pappas has requested to fund infrastructure improvements on the site.

The project has been under consideration for more than a year.

Maren Brisson-Kuester, president of Charlotte Regional Realtor Association, told the county commissioners on Wednesday they need to start redevelopment soon. The association’s new office building would be located on the site.

“We are genuinely running out of time,” she said. “Plain and simple, our building is falling down. It’s in disrepair … We have to develop. We have to do something.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo