Politics & Government

Despite protests from neighbors, Charlotte City Council approves Eastland sale to CMS

Bobbi Almond (right) and Gretchen Caldwell protested the City Council's decision Monday to sell 11.4 acres of the old Eastland Mall site to CMS for a K-8 school.
Bobbi Almond (right) and Gretchen Caldwell protested the City Council's decision Monday to sell 11.4 acres of the old Eastland Mall site to CMS for a K-8 school. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

It might not have the “Wow” factor some eastside residents want, but Charlotte City Council voted 8-2 Monday night to sell 11.4 acres of land at the old Eastland Mall site for a new K-8 school.

The city hopes it’s the first step towards revitalizing the area. But the deal will actually cost the city money.

The agreement calls for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to buy the property for $650,000. The city will then send that money back to CMS, which will use it to extend Hollyfield Drive and demolish concrete retaining walls on the site.

The agreement also calls for the city to pay CMS $51,500 to demolish another retaining wall.

CMS plans to build a K-8 language immersion school on the site, which is at the northeast corner of the Eastland site. The school could serve 1,000 students and relieve overcrowding at Albemarle Road Elementary and Albemarle Road Middle.

The sale was controversial. Some neighborhood advocates implored the city to hold out for a better offer with the hopes of enticing a more transformational project on the Central Avenue property.

East Charlotte resident Ed Garber gave council members a petition signed by 597 people against the sale, including 45 people in the Wilora Lake community, adjacent to the school site.

“Those 45 people who know how important Eastland is, they are willing to keep it the way it is,” Garber said. “They want a long-term solution. It’s a school, and schools are not known for creating a lot of businesses around them.”

But the financial terms of the sale – along with how long it’s been on the market – suggest that private developers aren’t interested.

Charlotte bought the 80-acre mall site for $13.2 million in 2012, then spent about $900,000 to demolish the closed mall.

The city’s first plan was to partner with a private developer to build movie studios at the site. That fell through. The city also has tried without success to find private developers to buy all or part of the property.

“People wanted a wow factor, but that’s being driven by market forces,” said council member Al Austin, who voted for the sale. “It’s a great start. It’s not the end-all, it’s only 11 acres. We still have the opportunity for something else.”

Council member Ed Driggs, who also supported the deal, said the city has made a large investment in buying the 80-acre mall site and demolishing it.

“The city stepped up, trying to make it more suitable for investors,” he said. “I have talked to developers, and the general tone is they have too many opportunities that don’t entail as much risk.”

But some residents urged the city to be patient for a bolder project. Council members Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon voted against the sale. They didn’t think a school would do enough to help the area.

A city-hired appraiser said the 11.4 acres was worth $1.4 million. A CMS-hired appraiser said it was worth just under $640,000. In selling for $650,000, the city sided with the CMS estimate of the land’s worth.

The city has never said it hopes to turn a profit on its purchase. But city staff and council members have said they hope to at least break even, or come close to that.

Monday’s sale price of $5,700 an acre is far below the $16,500 an acre the city paid for the mall and land.

Other speakers supported the sale.

Billy Maddalon, co-chair of the Eastland Area Strategies Team, said he supports the school.

“We have heard some lament the lack of a wow factor,” Maddalon said. “Some are suggesting that the plan is settling. It’s better to get it right, than big or wow.”

CMS will also spend about $490,000 to help extend Hollyfield Drive and to prepare the site for construction.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs