Mecklenburg County officials and the developers picked to transform Second Ward from a sterile government district to a vibrant, mixed-use quarter held their first town hall meeting this week, and it was clear that one of their main tasks will be balancing history and the future.
Brooklyn Village, as the $683 million project is known, will be built on land that was once part of the Brooklyn neighborhood, a thriving African American area wiped clean off the map by urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s.
“It is a tragic thing, by my estimation,” said Monte Ritchey, head of Conformity Corp., one of the developers behind the project, of the destruction of Brooklyn. “It’s just an unbelievable thing to me...It’s crystal clear to me just how complete a place this was, that was undone for all the wrong reasons.”
The meeting Thursday kicked off with a documentary about Second Ward High School and the surrounding neighborhood.
“If you visit downtown Charlotte, you would never know this thriving black community existed,” the narrator intoned, drawing applause from the crowd at the government center uptown.
But although the development will include nods to the area’s past and cultural spaces that educate people about its history, the developers made clear they’re not trying to recreate the pre-urban renewal Brooklyn neighborhood, which included 13 black churches and about 1,000 families who were relocated and scattered.
“We’re not rebuilding the past. We’re adding to the present,” said David Dixon, of Stantec.
The developers plan to hold a series of meetings over the next few months to help finalize plans while they negotiate the land purchase with Mecklenburg. You can follow upcoming meetings and scheduling online at https://www.facebook.com/brooklynvillageclt, or at https://twitter.com/BrooklynVlgCLT.
The next community meeting is set for Monday, Aug. 15, at 6 p.m. in the Beatties Ford Public Library.
In June, county commissioners picked a partnership led by Peebles Corp., Stantec and Conformity Corp. to redevelop 17 county-owned acres: The Bob Walton Plaza south of Stonewall Street (across from the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center); the shuttered Board of Education building; and Marshall Park between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Third Street (click here for a PDF with the full proposal).
The plan totals 2.3 million square feet of developed space and $683 million worth of investment over 10 years. One of the issues it’s clear developers will have to work through with the community is how much park space to include. The plan includes a 1.77-acres of open space, but it will eliminate the 5.4-acre Marshall Park. Even though concrete-crusted Marshall Park is lightly used, many think the new development should include a larger park on par with First Ward or Romare Bearden parks.
“The most troubling piece for me is the reduction of the park. I’m still not convinced that’s the right way to go,” one attendee told the developers. A meeting to discuss the park will be held the week of Sept. 12.
BK Partners, the joint venture that’s in charge of the redevelopment, still has to negotiate final terms with the county, a process that could take a year. Construction on the first phase won’t start until early 2019, and building would continue until 2025 under the proposed timeline.