On a sleepy edge of Uptown, in the shadow of the courthouse, the 5.5-acre Marshall Park goes relatively unnoticed — that is, until it’s time for a protest.
Today, the park is a dated-looking expanse of green space with a concrete-bottom lake and amphitheater. But that will change: It’s part of an approximately 17-acre redevelopment plan for the former Brooklyn area, which a half-century ago was the largest Black neighborhood in Charlotte.
Why it matters: Marshall Park is relatively empty most of the time. Still, surrounded by government buildings and surface parking lots, it’s a rare square of open space in center city that’s been the backdrop for political and social justice movements in Charlotte for years.
The big picture: The Brooklyn neighborhood was demolished in the 1960s and ’70s through the federal urban renewal program, which removed Black residents from valuable land near downtown districts.
- Marshall Park is named after James B. Marshall, city manager of Charlotte from 1935-1940, who championed plans to raze Brooklyn and create a civic plaza in its place. Then-mayor John Belk dedicated the park in 1973, per Observer archives.
Much of the tension surrounding the long-anticipated redevelopment, which has been delayed over the years, centers on how to honor the legacy of Brooklyn and make up for the harm caused by its destruction.
Mecklenburg County in 2016 selected BK Partners to lead the redevelopment. BK is led by Don Peebles, one of the wealthiest Black people in America, with an estimated net worth of $700 million. But a new county commission pushed back on the proposal after the 2018 election, saying it didn’t provide enough affordable units in a county that’s short tens of thousands of them. The city also pushed back in 2019.
Ultimately, though, the project’s moving forward.
BK Partners, which consists of The Peebles Corporation and Charlotte-based Conformity Corporation, recently won conditional approval for the site plan from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Peebles tells me.
- The firms submitted permits for the project’s first phase in February, Peebles said in an email, and he expects approval soon.
Details: The Brooklyn revamp includes offices, shops, hotel rooms and more than 1,200 new homes.
At least 114 of the residences will be affordable for those earning up to 80% of the area median income. That’s $66,800 for a family of four, according to city data.
Marshall Park will be replaced with a 1.6-acre park.
What they’re saying: The reduction of the park’s size has drawn the ire of some environmental advocates.
- A petition to Mecklenburg County Commissioners to save the park has garnered more than 600 signatures.
- The advocates say a larger park is needed to accommodate the new residents moving to the area. Charlotte’s park system frequently ranks near the bottom compared to other major U.S. cities in an annual report from The Trust for Public Land.
The other side: Peebles has said the project will create economic opportunity for Black residents in Charlotte — with a goal of spending 35% of contracting dollars with minority-owned, women-owned, and small business enterprises.
What’s next: The first phase of the project encompasses a six-acre site where Bob Walton Plaza is located. Peebles anticipates starting construction on the first phase around a year after the final site plan is approved.
- The northern portion of the project, which includes Marshall Park, will be completed after that. That is not expected to start until more than 5 years from now, the county said in a statement.
We rounded up some of the notable demonstrations that have taken place at Marshall Park in recent years.
2011: Protesters marched to Marshall Park to speak out against an anti-gay marriage amendment.
2012: Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement camped out during the Democratic National Convention.
2013 (and other years): Demonstrators held a Moral Monday march to protest actions taken by what was then the newly-Republican controlled state government.
2013: Marshall Park has hosted protests over the years in the wake of the 2013 police killing of Jonathan Ferrell.
2016: After a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, setting off a wave of demonstrations, Marshall Park was one of the locations where protests originated.
2017: Protesters gathered for “A Day Without Immigrants,” a rally against former president Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
2017: The park hosted a “Stand Against Hate” event after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
2020: Marshall Park was home to a number of rallies held after the murder of George Floyd.
- Protesters from pro-police movement Blue Lives Matter and activist group Charlotte Uprising clashed at the park last July.