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Mecklenburg commissioners to city of Charlotte: Think bigger on Eastland Mall redevelopment

Workers continued to demolish Eastland Mall in east Charlotte in February 2014. The city hopes to sell 12 acres of the former mall site to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as part of a plan to turn the area into a mixed-use neighborhood with a community park and retail.
Workers continued to demolish Eastland Mall in east Charlotte in February 2014. The city hopes to sell 12 acres of the former mall site to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as part of a plan to turn the area into a mixed-use neighborhood with a community park and retail. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County commissioners said Tuesday they want the city of Charlotte to be bolder about its plans to redevelop the vacant Eastland Mall site into a mixed-use neighborhood with retail, green space and a K-8 school.

The board’s six Democrats called for the city to devise a bigger, better plan that includes revitalizing several east Charlotte neighborhoods before it asks the county to build a 22-acre community park at the mall site.

“I’d like to hear that the city has fully committed to this project and they are going to make an investment and therefore, they are asking us to partner with them,” Commissioner George Dunlap said.

No Republican commissioners attended the meeting, although Jim Puckett detailed his feelings about the plan in an email to the board: “It is my opinion the city of Charlotte has a white elephant on their hands and are looking for partners to help spread the financial pain. I have no interest in being part of this poorly conceived land purchase.”

City planning officials in October presented to Charlotte City Council their vision for redeveloping the 80-acre mall property, which the city bought for $13 million in 2012 before demolishing it a year later. They showed those same plans to commissioners Tuesday.

“I was hoping for something bigger or more exciting,” said Commissioner Pat Cotham, adding she wants to see a “wow” factor at the site that would draw visitors from both Carolinas. “Are we thinking big?”

Some commissioners worried the area’s culture would be lost and questioned whether the city planned to revitalize neighborhoods around Eastland Mall.

Pat Mumford, who oversees the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services department, told commissioners no developers have signaled interest in the mall. A public investment – whether in a school or park – would be the push needed to get developers on board, he said.

“This is important to the people on the whole east side,” said Vice Chair Dumont Clarke, whose district includes the Eastland Mall site. “I think ultimately doing nothing is not an option.”

Neighbors in east Charlotte have seen nothing for years as decade-old plans to transform the area have gone nowhere, said John Leonard, a board member with the neighborhood Eastland Area Strategies Team. He said residents hope for development that match Charlotte’s trendier neighborhoods.

“We want to see Starbucks; we want to see the same kind of development we see in midtown and SouthPark,” Leonard said. “I think primarily what people are looking for is a place for the community to gather. A lot of people are in support of green space.”

That green space could boost the site’s allure, along with plans to sell 12 acres of the mall site to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a relief school on Albemarle Road, Mumford said.

Yet, commissioners were concerned about making a hefty parks investment amid renewed attention to projects residents have long lobbied for, including finishing the incomplete Eastway Park and reviving the historic Waymer Center in Huntersville.

“When established neighborhoods that have been promised parks in the past have not yet gotten them, it’s going to be difficult to say or even suggest that this park might be built before one of those,” Dunlap said.

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

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