Charlotte leaders are dreaming big for the future of center city, even if it’s far from certain in a continued COVID-19 reality.
What: The Center City 2040 Vision Plan aims to shape the way that Uptown and its surrounding neighborhoods grow. It covers 10 focus areas — some in the heart of Uptown, and some in places that aren’t traditionally thought of as the city’s urban core, like Beatties Ford Road.
Why it matters: With many people still working from home, Uptown is still far from what it was pre-pandemic. But Charlotte is still growing, and planners believe that what’s considered urban will grow with it — and that means places outside of the office towers contained within Interstate 277.
- The Center City Vision Plan is a partnership between nonprofit Charlotte Center City Partners, the city and Mecklenburg County, and it’s a non-binding, aspirational document.
Here are some of the key ideas:
Large redevelopment projects
The plan outlines visions for some of the biggest redevelopments happening near Uptown.
For example, the document envisions the future medical school and innovation district in midtown as connected to the surrounding neighborhoods and Uptown through transit, open space and aligned street networks.
- It also encourages the development of a bioscience and health incubator at the campus, career pathway programs and partnerships with local schools and other initiatives to benefit Charlotte residents.
And on land surrounding Bank of America Stadium, the plan imagines “center city’s next great urban mixed-use neighborhood.” Much of that includes the redevelopment of the Charlotte Pipe & Foundry land, which City Council approved in December.
- The vision plan calls for new housing, entertainment, food and beverage, retail and offices in the area.
- As it stands, the Pipe & Foundry rezoning allows for a wide variety of uses, including a stadium.
More open space
In virtually every focus area, leaders hope to encourage more parks and public spaces.
The big picture: Charlotte is often criticized for its poor ranking among the nation’s largest cities for its parks. And neighborhoods in the crescent, where low-income and minority populations are concentrated, have fewer amenities like parks due to decades of disinvestment.
- The plan aims to remedy those disparities.
- The goal is for every household in the center city (generally considered to be within a two-mile radius of the heart of Uptown), to have access to a public space within a 10-minute walk.
A major part of that goal is an idea developers and some neighborhood groups have been pushing for to create Charlotte’s version of a central park.
- Advocates for the Queen’s Park effort want it to be located on the rail yard north of Uptown, between North Tryon and North Brevard Streets, stretching up to Matheson Avenue.
- The plan suggests that consolidating and relocating railroad activity could open up some of that land. But it all hinges on Norfolk Southern, which owns the land.
What’s happening: Not everyone has shared in Charlotte’s prosperity: the cost of living has risen and affordable housing is in short supply. Residents in the neighborhoods the plan focuses on near Uptown have felt some of the sharpest price increases.
- The plan hopes to remedy this by creating what it refers to as the “Center City Equity Fund.”
How it works: A portion of the revenue from future tax growth in center city would be used for the fund. That money could be used for things like:
- Affordable housing development
- Homeless services and developing supportive housing
- Subsidizing commercial rents for emerging businesses owned by people from underrepresented groups
- Workforce development
- Land banking
- Anti-displacement measures
What they’re saying: “We’ve learned that we cannot solely count on free market forces to meet our commitments to equity,” Center City Partners CEO and president Michael Smith told City Council in November.
The plan also envisions connecting the neighborhoods in center city through public transit and pedestrian/bike infrastructure.
For instance, despite the incredible transformation South End has undergone since the opening of the Blue Line, it’s still cut off from Uptown by I-277.
- A $11.5 million pedestrian bridge over I-277 in the works will help add some of that connectivity.
- But the plan has an even bigger idea, one that’s been discussed for years: a new public space to be built on top of the freeway, with mixed-use buildings alongside it.
Between the lines: A freeway cap is undoubtedly an expensive and long-term proposal.
- Yes, but: The plan also suggests more modest changes that could make a big difference in helping make our city a more walkable and bike-friendly place, like building out protected bike lanes in uptown and traffic calming measures.
What’s next: Charlotte City Council signed off on the vision plan in December, and Mecklenburg County’s commissioners will take it up next.