View from Miami: Could public art spice up Charlotte’s building boom?

Wynwood Walls graffiti art in Miami

Ryan "The Wheelbarrow" Ferrell explains a bit about the Wynwood Walls in Miami.
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Ryan "The Wheelbarrow" Ferrell explains a bit about the Wynwood Walls in Miami.

One of the most common complaints about Charlotte’s building boom is that it’s too bland.

On Thursday, Charlotte leaders got a heavy dose of a possible antidote: a big splash of color, art and murals.

Local business and political leaders visiting Miami for the Charlotte Chamber’s annual intercity visit toured Wynwood, Miami’s newest art district. Old warehouses and industrial buildings are covered in colorful murals a dozen feet high and wide as a city block.

Breast-feeding women, impressionistic tigers and a downtown Manhattan streetscape leap off the walls in brilliant color.

Property owners pay to fly in graffiti artists and muralists who adorn the walls. The neighborhood’s art boom – it’s home to part of the Art Basel festival each year – is credited with revitalizing the area.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to overcome, in Charlotte, the desire to be the buttoned-down, suit-and-tie, tidy town,” said Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell. “We’ve got to let our hair down just a little bit.”

The Charlotte delegation left with plenty of ideas about how to bring something similar to Charlotte.

“We can do this,” said Mecklenburg County commissioner Ella Scarborough. She suggested getting students at Northwest School of the Arts to create murals, with paint purchased by local companies.

“It really sets the tone for an area,” said Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners. He said providing more incentives for art could help areas such as the land north and west of uptown, which are drawing more interest from investors and developers as the streetcar and light-rail systems expand.

Astrid Chirinos of the Latin American Economic Development Corp. suggested a competition to decorate Charlotte buildings. Brian Leary of developer Crescent Communities, which has sponsored art installations at the former Goodyear building at Stonewall and Tryon streets, said the company would be open to including more exterior art in its new projects.

To be sure, Charlotte has public art, especially along the Blue Line light rail. The Rail Trail that runs parallel to the tracks has been decorated with colorful guerrilla installations and projects such as Duke Energy’s color-changing LED lights at its substation along the line.

Campbell said Charlotte’s zoning code allows public murals, as long as they’re not commercial.

Joe Furst, managing director of Goldman Properties’ Wynwood portfolio in Miami, said the focus on art and outdoor murals has fostered interest in an area of one-story warehouses that used to be regarded as a slum.

Goldman Properties, which also revitalized parts of Miami Beach and New York’s SoHo, started acquiring property in Wynwood in 2005 and has created Wynwood Walls, an outdoor gallery of dozens of graffiti-style works.

“There’s nothing really inherently interesting about what’s here,” said Furst. But the addition of an arts district identity – buttressed by a special zoning designation – has yielded tangible results, Furst said. Property that was acquired for $105 per square foot now sells for $2,000 a square foot, he said.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo