If you know Uptown Charlotte, you know that development and activity has mostly concentrated on South Tryon, from construction of offices to new restaurants. Now, a huge redevelopment on North Tryon promises to breathe life into a stretch of the city center that’s sat quiet for years.
This summer a $600 million North Tryon redevelopment moved forward after years of planning. The Seventh and Tryon project is intended to be a catalyst for growth, connecting the bustling center of the city to the rest of the North Tryon corridor.
The plan is to redevelop 1.5 blocks on North Tryon bordered by Sixth, Seventh, and College, the area that includes Spirit Square. When it’s finished sometime in late 2024, the site will include restaurants and shops, a 25-30-story office tower, residences, a walkable plaza, sidewalk cafes, above-ground and underground parking, and a new main library building.
It’ll feel a bit like 16th Street Mall in Denver, a walkable downtown district filled with outdoor cafes, office buildings, restaurants, and shops.
Originally, the plan was to include affordable housing on the Uptown Charlotte site. But following months of disagreements between the local housing authority and city leaders, now the plan is to build affordable housing next to the project, on North Tryon and Eighth. Plans also call for funding to go to other affordable housing developments outside of Uptown.
Project leaders point to the jobs the Seventh and Tryon project will create. The tower itself, whose anchor tenant has not been named, will have room for up to 4,000 jobs. And construction of the project will result in another 1,200-1,500 jobs, estimates Beth Hardin, vice chancellor for business affairs at UNC Charlotte and co-chair of the Seventh and Tryon committee.
“It is an economic development project at a really, really important time,” Hardin says. “It provides jobs for people in the process of constructing this project and it does so now.”
What’s the latest
For Seventh and Tryon, the step this summer was an unsexy-sounding but important procedural one: the partners had to approve a memorandum of understanding.
Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte, and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library board all separately approved MOU, which will inform the master development plan. And that master plan will include specifics, like how much retail there will be, and what the green space will look like.
As part of the approval, the city, county, library, and Bank of America all agreed to sell about 3.1 acres to the developer, Metropolitan Partnership, a real estate company in the Washington, D.C. metro. Currently, Metropolitan is doing documentation work on the development plan. The county and city will then approve that plan.
Metropolitan has long been interested in Charlotte, says Metropolitan Partnership founder and CEO Cary Euwer.
“Charlotte is a wonderful and dynamic city. We’ve looked at opportunities here over the years and this seemed like the best way to enter the market,” Euwer says.
Metropolitan is working with is BCT Design Group on the Seventh and Tryon project. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is the project’s architect.
The library component
Central in the Seventh and Tryon project is the new main library building.
Plans for a new main library date back to around 2008, when the library system was doing a facility’s master plan. Around the same time, a task force started putting together plans for the next chapter of Spirit Square.
Opened in the late 1970s, Spirit Square is the arts complex on North Tryon that includes the McGlohon and Duke Energy theaters.
When Lee Keesler took over as the library system’s CEO in 2012, he decided that conversations about building a new main library and reimagining Spirit Square needed to be connected. The idea somewhat resembled what Columbus, Ohio, had done when the latest renovations at the main library connected the library building to Topiary Park nearby.
In November 2019, library leaders outlined plans for a $100 million state-of-the-art facility to replace the aging building on North Tryon and College. Keesler has described the new library as a tech hub. It’ll be a five-story, glass-paneled building and will have a ground-level cafe, a job-training center, a dramatic spiral staircase, and outdoor terraces on its second floor and rooftop.
The main library will close about a year from now. Construction will start sometime in the fall of 2021.
Also this summer, county commissioners approved the strategy for Spirit Square. That involves preserving and improving the two theaters with updates like new electrical systems. Then, the theaters will eventually connect to the library through a main lobby.
“Our project is part of something that’s bigger than just us,” Keesler says.
“Libraries are civic spaces. We bring a lot of value in terms of connecting other spaces.”
As with many public-private partnerships, Seventh and Tryon is complex and has faced a number of challenges.
The city and county’s vote this summer includes $27-$30 million in public funding for the project. The city also will provide $2-$5 million for improvements along Seventh Street.
Earlier this year, the project almost collapsed because the county said affordable housing, originally a key component of the project, would be too expensive, the Charlotte Observer reported.
In the early stages, Inlivian (formerly the Charlotte Housing Authority) was part of the Seventh and Tryon project. Now, Inlivian plans to develop its own affordable housing on the property it owns next to Seventh and Tryon. As part of that, Inlivian could opt to tear down the historic Hall House on its site. Inlivian did not respond to a request for comment.
This summer, the County voted to allocate $14.5 million from proceeds of land sale for affordable housing.
About $6 million of that will fund Inlivian’s affordable housing Uptown, adjacent to the Seventh and Tryon development. Of the total 368 apartments in the building at 8th and Tryon, 110 will be designated as affordable housing. One third of those will be for families who make 30 percent of the area median income; another third will be for people who make 60 percent of the AMI, and the last third will be for those who make 80 percent.
The remaining $8.5 million will be used to support offsite affordable housing projects throughout Charlotte. This will help fill funding gaps for more than 550 units at a handful of other projects either planned or underway, Hardin says. One such project is the 104 affordable housing development the YWCA is building on its Park Road campus.
In total, Seventh and Tryon will include more than 1,500 parking spaces. About 250 of those will be underground. Though it’s more complicated to build parking underground, Hardin sees it as a positive way to open up pedestrian space.
“That public space matters a lot,” Hardin says.
The bulk of the public funding for the project will come in the form of tax breaks for parking.
But at a time when Charlotte is trying to become less dependent on cars, that’s something that didn’t sit well with some local leaders.
In a July 13 city council meeting, Mayor Vi Lyles said she would recommend reexamining the city’s Tax Increment Grants policy and how it funds things like parking.
“Going forward I would hope that the city would not encourage the developer to include additional parking,” said Larken Egleston, whose District 1 includes Uptown.