City’s uptown poised for boom

Ten or 15 years from now, we’re going to look up and find that uptown Charlotte has morphed into something entirely different from what it is today.

We’ve already seen how fast it can happen. Just look at the South End, where light rail helped change a forgotten commercial corridor into the bustling residential district it is today.

You can see the beginnings of change in the new apartments sprouting around BB&T BallPark. And it’s glaringly evident on the North Tryon Street block, where Novare Group, Grubb Properties and Batson-Cook Development are building two high-rise “SkyHouse” apartment towers that, when complete, will be home to about 1,000 new residents.

Last week, the developers and uptown boosters puffed cigars and congratulated each other as bulldozers began pulling down the old City Center Inn to make way for the second tower.

“This is just the beginning of what we refer to as the urban century,” Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith told us afterward. “It’s being re-explored by baby boomers; it’s being discovered by millennials. We’re going to have to continue to focus on creating a place that’s more walkable, more bikeable.”

Turning an area long dominated by office towers into true neighborhoods won’t be easy. You need grocery stores, dry cleaners, retail shops and restaurants.

The biggest barrier to getting all that uptown has always been that there weren’t enough residents to justify it. But that’s clearly changing, as SkyHouse shows. The developers say their tower plans include 30,000 square feet of retail space, and potentially a grocery store.

Retail follows (residential) rooftops, as the old real estate development adage goes. The city of Charlotte needs to get ready. Center City Partners early this year presented City Council with a study showing uptown can support 335,000 square feet of retail shopping along Tryon, Trade, College and Stonewall streets.

But it pointed to longstanding barriers: the lack of ground-floor retail space in existing towers, a dearth of retail-friendly parking. When he presented the report’s findings to City Council early this year, Smith suggested the city might consider helping through new parking decks or supporting validated parking for shoppers.

With multifamily residential developers swarming into uptown, the lack of retail might not seem a pressing problem. But if you want the newcomers to stay, the city likely will need to help solve the uptown retail riddle. With the development pace quickening, the sooner the better.