RNC 2020

New skyscrapers, light rail, many more people: Charlotte’s been booming since 2012 DNC

Timelapses show 50 years of development, change in Charlotte

A time lapse tour of Charlotte locations.
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A time lapse tour of Charlotte locations.

When the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte in 2012, the city set up a “free speech zone” on a barren strip of land at Stonewall and Caldwell streets in an attempt to keep protesters away from the main action.

Activists scoffed at the empty patch of dirt and grass, which spent most of the convention week vacant. Far from the center of uptown, Stonewall Street was largely made up of empty lots backing up to Interstate 277.

No other street in Charlotte illustrates the city’s breakneck growth better than that 1-mile stretch running across uptown’s southern edge. Now, the former “free speech zone” is occupied by a Whole Foods, 459 luxury apartments and two hotels under construction with more than 350 rooms.

Amazon's Whole Foods market opened its doors this morning to hundreds of people. First 500 customers got a free gift card ranging from $5 to $500.

Across the street, a 22-story tower with hundreds more apartments is rising, and a 26-story office building with a 300-room hotel is under construction at the former site of a Goodyear auto shop up the street. And at the site of the former Observer building two blocks away, a 33-story office tower for Bank of America is being built, the first phase of a huge development that will include residences, shops, hotels and restaurants.

The "Free Speech Zone" on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012, in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

The "Free Speech Zone" now. Observer archives

The "Free Speech Zone" now. Ely Portillo

When the Republican National Committee comes to Charlotte in 2020, they’ll find a boomtown in the grips of a growth spurt, with a host of shiny new towers and flocks of construction cranes that local boosters are eager to show off.

Here are some numbers and new developments that paint the picture of Charlotte’s growth since the last time the city hosted a national political convention:

85,000 people

That’s the rough number of residents the city added from 2012 to 2017, the most recent year for U.S. Census estimates, when Charlotte’s population hit 859,035. If population growth continues at the same rate, Charlotte’s population should top 900,000 by the time the RNC’s here in 2020.

Romare Bearden Park, BB&T Ballpark and First Ward Park

A replica of Air Force One on display in 2012 for the DNC as part of the American Presidential Experience exhibit on Mint Street. The site was then a vacant lot. Now? It's Romare Bearden Park and BB&T BallPark. JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte skyline is changing rapidly. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

When the DNC came to town, several large muddy tracts and parking lots made the perfect spot to plop a replica of Air Force One and trailers with an exhibit of presidential memorabilia.

Now? Those once-empty lots are Romare Bearden Park and its light-up water fountain. It’s adjacent to BB&T Ballpark, which opened in 2014 with glittering skyline views.

And don’t forget about First Ward Park, next to UNC Charlotte’s uptown building: that was an asphalt parking lot in 2012.

Kids and adults enjoy the first night of the new First Ward Park

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles speaks to the crowd gathered in First Ward Park during the Women's March in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, January 20, 2018. In 2012, when the DNC was in Charlotte, the park was an empty parking lot. Observer archives

14 towers

The most prominent buildings on Charlotte’s skyline will be the same as 2012 — the Bank of America tower, Duke Energy Center, One Wells Fargo — but there’s a whole new supporting cast. There are 14 new high-rise buildings since 2012 that will be open or under construction uptown when the RNC arrives. The number includes glassy office towers like 300 South Tryon and the Bank of America building at the former Observer site, luxury hotels such as the Grand Bohemian and Intercontinental, and high-rise apartments such as the Museum Tower and Ascent.

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The 43-story apartment tower on top of the Mint Museum uptown. Childress Klein

7,300 hotel rooms

That’s how many hotel rooms will be open in uptown, South End and midtown by 2020, according to Charlotte Center City Partners, compared with 4,400 in 2012. The surge includes new buildings like the Kimpton Tryon Park, Springhill Suites and the AC Hotel/Residence Inn & Suites.

276 bars and restaurants

There are about 100 more bars and restaurants in uptown and South End then there were in 2012, when 178 such establishments were open, according to Charlotte Center City Partners.

18.9 miles

That’s the full length of the Lynx Blue Line light rail, which has roughly doubled in length since the extension from uptown to UNCC opened this year. Also by 2020, the Gold Line streetcar, which opened in 2015, is expected to be running along a 4-mile east-west route.

Passengers cheered and clapped as Charlotte’s light-rail extension left the UNC Charlotte station at 10 a.m. Friday morning, opening the Lynx Blue line after four years of construction.

27,200 and 125,000

When the RNC arrives, they’ll find a much denser central Charlotte than existed in 2012 — potentially meaning more residents and workers inconvenienced by the extra-tight security that’s expected.

There are now about 27,200 residents in central Charlotte, a more than 50 percent increase since 2012. And there are about 125,000 workers there, up about 22 percent, according to Charlotte Center City Partners.

Both those numbers are only expected to increase by 2020, with thousands more apartments and millions more square feet of office space planned or under construction.

Portillo: 704-358-5041