Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday renewed talks to transform property in Second Ward into a mixed-use development called Brooklyn Village, a tribute to the city’s African-American community leveled during “urban renewal” in the late 1960s.
On Wednesday, the county launched a search for a developer to reshape 17 acres that house Marshall Park, the shuttered Board of Education building and the Bob Walton Plaza in uptown Charlotte.
The county has heard from about 20 developers interested in the properties and has received five formal expressions of interest for the land, collectively worth about $60 million, said Dennis LaCaria, assistant to the county manager.
Plans made years ago call for the county to build a hotel, affordable housing and market-rate condos, offices and restaurants on the property. The county bought the land in a complicated land swap with the city of Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – a deal that was critical in opening BB&T Ballpark in uptown.
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But after Charlotte-based Spectrum Properties dropped out in 2013, commissioners asked staff to conduct a national search for a new developer.
The county’s renewed push comes amid a flood of new development pouring into uptown, including Second Ward. Along Stonewall Street, apartment developer Proffitt Dixon is under contract to buy the Actor’s Theatre and a 1.7-acre parcel of city-owned land next to Bob Walton Plaza. The city has sold off five parcels of vacant land along Stonewall Street for private development since 2013.
Down the street, Proffitt Dixon is finishing work on a new apartment building at Stonewall and McDowell streets. At Stonewall and Caldwell streets, Crescent Communities is getting ready to start work on a Whole Foods, apartments and hotels, and an Embassy Suites hotel is under construction on E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard across from the Charlotte Convention Center.
Nearby, Levine Properties is expected to open First Ward Park in December, and the company is planning to build apartments, hotels and an office tower around the park. And in other parts of uptown, the booming market is fueling new office towers, hotels and apartments.
Undoing “urban renewal”
But the county-owned parcels in Second Ward have been on the sidelines throughout the latest boom. Now, even as county commissioners seek to revive development, they’re hoping to create something distinctive in an area of Charlotte that once saw a community erased.
While there are no definite plans for what shape the sites will take, some board members gave impassioned pleas Tuesday that county staff ensure developers don’t build more apartments in uptown. Instead, they want to uphold promises leaders made years ago to recapture some of the original Brooklyn Village’s historic prominence.
“This is not just a piece of land that we are considering development on,” Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said. “It’s not just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill business opportunity in the central business district. There’s a lot more going on here.”
LaCaria said staff will take until Nov. 24 to scrutinize would-be developers and dig into their portfolios, financial wherewithal and experience creating mixed-use neighborhoods.
“The goal ... is to cast as wide a net as possible,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody on the local scene is able to step up and be involved with this.”
Once the pool of contenders is whittled down to a select few, the county manager’s office will interview candidates and make a recommendation to the board. Officials hope to start negotiations by February, LaCaria said.
Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour questioned whether the county would maintain input on the development’s design or let a developer take the reins. LaCaria said the county will seek to keep its creative control, adding later that the county hasn’t relinquished hopes for building a hotel on the site.
“We’re going to request multi-use; we’re going to want to see retail be a component of this; we’re going to want to see commercial be a part of this,” he said.
Others were concerned about the integrity of the original vision for Brooklyn Village.
Commissioner Ella Scarborough asked if living former residents of the neighborhood could take seats at the table and give input on the area’s design.
“In my opinion, we just stole a jewel from some very important people, and we must make it up,” she said.
Fuller said the county should insist that would-be developers build something “consistent with the whole series of conversations and plans and promises that were made to make this parcel available.”
He called Brooklyn a unique middle- and working-class black neighborhood that included doctors, lawyers, dentists, truck drivers and custodians. As part of urban renewal, it was flattened in the late 1960s. Its churches and buildings were razed and its residents displaced.
“Many of them are still waiting for promises to be fulfilled,” Fuller said. “We must not lose this opportunity. We must not fail them again.”
Observer reporter Ely Portillo contributed