Editorial: Crosland helped shape Charlotte’s growth

The Observer editorial board

John Crosland, Jr. was one of Charlotte’s most influential real estate developers.
John Crosland, Jr. was one of Charlotte’s most influential real estate developers. charlotteobserver.com

As a 1998 story in the Observer put it, “if you’ve ever bought a house or shopped in Charlotte, John Crosland has probably affected your life.”

That’s how deeply our region’s growth and development have been affected by the work of John Crosland Jr., who died Sunday at 86 following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Crosland said in 2012 that he wanted to build “something that was long-lasting, a legacy.” He made that remark in the context of the $1.1 million he gave to the former Dore Academy, helping the school that now bears his name to nearly quadruple the size of its building.

But Crosland might just as easily have been speaking about everything he contributed after more than five decades of business and philanthropy in Charlotte.

He built thousands of homes in neighborhoods all over Charlotte, including Foxcroft East, Beverly Woods and Huntingtowne Farms. As he grew the company his father launched in 1937, the Crosland name became one of the best known in Charlotte’s home-building industry.

After he sold its home-building arm to Centex Corp. in 1987, Crosland branched out to build office, multifamily and mixed-use projects such as Birkdale Village in Huntersville and Blakeney in south Charlotte.

In a community known for its strong-willed real estate developers, he still stood out. He helped create the Real Estate & Building Industry Coalition (REBIC), which fights for fewer government restraints on developers’ work. Crosland felt government too often drives up the price of housing by over-regulating development.

That sometimes put him at odds with those critical of suburban sprawl and in favor of stronger controls on development. Asked about such criticisms in 1998, he replied: “We don’t sit down at the table and work out and figure out what’s best for people. We let the market dictate.”

He supported the Interstate 485 outerbelt, but also voiced cautious support for the city’s half-cent sales tax for transit long before it birthed the city’s successful light-rail line.

His company grew with Charlotte. By the time he retired as chairman in 2007, it had about $2 billion in assets and property under development. But wealth and success didn’t blind him to the struggles of the less fortunate. He had forged a successful life despite struggling with dyslexia, and wanted to see other underdogs do the same.

He saw homeownership as an essential tool for breaking the cycle of poverty. He helped found Charlotte’s Habitat for Humanity chapter in the 1980s, and served as chairman for six years.

“I love this community,” he once said. “I’ve tried to do all I can to make it a better community.”

Looking back over his life’s work, he clearly succeeded.