Will Uptown make a comeback?

Will Uptown make a comeback?
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It depends who you ask.

On one hand, industries like hospitality rely on business travel and big events Uptown to make a living. Until those return, the going may be tough.

On the other, city boosters and local officials are optimistic because of Charlotte’s breakneck growth heading into the pandemic. That momentum, they say, will put Charlotte on a solid path to recovery.

Driving the news: Resilience is a major theme of a new report from Center City Partners, an arm of the city that promotes growth in Uptown and surrounding neighborhoods. CCP CEO Michael Smith points to outside interest in Charlotte as a reason for his optimism in the city’s bounceback.

  • “Momentum matters,” Smith tells Axios Charlotte. “We earned a lot of mindshare with relocation consultants, with institutional investors … and now their fate is tied to ours.”

Charlotte, CCP anticipates, will continue to beat out competitors for major economic development projects and big events like it has in recent years, like with landing Truist’s headquarters, and the NBA All-Star Game.

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“This is actually going to create a little bit of an opportunity for us. If we respond like we did coming out of the Great Recession, we will have this opportunity to reset ourselves relative to our competitors,” Smith said.

By the numbers: $3 billion in new development planned in 2021 for Uptown and surrounding neighborhoods like South End and midtown, including:

  • 3.9 million square feet of office space.
  • 2,020 hotel rooms.
  • 5,505 new apartments.
  • 552,000 square feet of retail.

Zoom in: When there’s not a pandemic, 120,000 people work Uptown.

Charlotte business leaders are bullish on the need for physical office space, despite the fact that towers Uptown remain mostly empty these days. There’s always going to be “a physical part of work,” Truist president and COO Bill Rogers said in a CCP presentation that aired last week.

“We are very strong in our cultural foundation, and you’ve got to be together to build culture. You can’t do that when you’re all separated,” Rogers said.

Yes, but: The fate of the hospitality industry is tied to the return of business travel, live sports and entertainment, and other big events. [Go deeper]

The lack of foot traffic Uptown has dried up business for a growing number of restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Queen City Q, La Belle Helene and JJ’s Red Hots are all among the Uptown restaurants that’ve closed during the pandemic.

  • Queen City Q managing partner Bryan Meredith said on Facebook that after “surveying the landscape and future of uptown, there’s just no clear path to success.”

Weekday business travel fuels demand for Charlotte’s hospitality industry. We’re not as much of a “destination” like Charleston, Asheville, or Savannah, notes Birju Patel, president of BPR Properties. BPR is a hotel developer with properties like Embassy Suites and the proposed Moxy Hotel at Brevard and 4th.

  • Moxy is one of at least two major Uptown hotel projects are on hold because of the pandemic. The Intercontinental at the restored Carolina Theatre site is also paused.

Patel says Charlotte is one of the hardest hit locations for his company.

“The market has been devastated,” Patel says. “If companies aren’t traveling, hotels Uptown basically have no business.”

Patel is optimistic about the area’s eventual recovery, though. “Charlotte will rebound, there’s no way it won’t … It’s just going to take some time.”

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