As plans for former Eastland Mall site take shape, developer eyes 2020 start

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By Erik Spanberg, Charlotte Business Journal
May 24, 2019

Several months of research and public meetings about the former Eastland Mall site have convinced city government and executives from the private development team that the 69-acre site can be successfully overhauled. That sentiment came through loud and clear on Thursday, when representatives from Crosland Southeast and the city’s economic development division provided an update to City Council’s economic development committee.

In October, council approved spending as much as $250,000 on due diligence and outreach for an overhaul of the former mall site in east Charlotte. Real estate firm Crosland Southeast and architecture firm Odell were chosen last year to lead city government’s latest attempt to revive the property. To date, about half of the money has been spent.

“As we refine our plan, as we put numbers to it, then we need to figure out what the private sector can support in terms of its private investment,” Tim Sittema, Crosland Southeast managing partner, told CBJ on Thursday. “And then we need to figure out if there’s a gap between cost and what the private sector can afford. I know enough to say there will absolutely be a gap. The question, really, is more how large is that gap.”

Committee member Ed Driggs, a Republican, warned Sittema and city economic development head Tracy Dodson during the presentation to be careful not to spend months on a proposal without being cognizant of limited potential funding from city government to fill that gap.

“That’s going to be a critical moment — when we get the price tag,” Driggs said.

Sittema and Dodson said they’re keeping budget constraints in mind, but also said it’s too early to determine what the potential request for taxpayer money will be.

The property sits six miles from uptown at Albemarle and North Sharon Amity roads at Central Avenue.

Already, $20 million previously approved for infrastructure such as street lights, sidewalks and related improvements in east Charlotte has been set aside for the Eastland redevelopment. The former mall opened in 1975 and became a popular shopping destination as well as home to a once-beloved ice-skating rink. Suburban competition, population shifts and sharp declines in jobs and household income crippled the mall in the mid-1990s and beyond. It closed in 2010.

The city bought the closed mall for $13.2 million in 2012 and, a year later, demolished the vacant buildings. It encompasses 80 acres, with 11 occupied by a K-8 language academy public school opened last year.

On Thursday, Sittema said one-on-one and small-group meetings with residents and other stakeholders in recent months led the developers to outline five main priorities for developing the site. The priorities consist of:

  • Building soccer fields and other sports and recreation areas.
  • Providing green space with trails, gathering places and pavilions suitable for community events and concerts.
  • Developing a variety of housing at prices higher than what the market in east Charlotte currently would allow. The idea, Sittema said, is to compete with neighborhoods such as Plaza Midwood and NoDa, bringing in some new residents who will help spur demand for related development. Sittema mentioned townhouses in the low-$200,000s and some single-family homes in the $400,000 range along with other price points. “We’re not going to build vinyl-sided tract homes at the lowest price,” he said.
  • Ensuring an active, pedestrian-friendly and safe environment with an activity hub such as a public plaza.
  • Bringing jobs and convenience to the area and its residents with higher-quality shopping while also bringing in and creating restaurants that celebrate the east side’s international influence and diversity of cuisines.

Details are soon to come for a planned, large-scale community meeting on June 19 as city planners and the Crosland-Odell team continue to gather information and insight on what people want most on the Eastland property. The site is considered vital to boosting the east side, where household income lags the county average by 43%.

James Mitchell, a Democrat and head of the committee, urged Sittema and the city to keep pushing ahead on the Eastland site. Even though this is a city government election year, the abandoned mall project stands apart from partisan politics and should be pursued head-long, he said.

“The goal is transformation,” Sittema said.

He said honing potential costs and development options will likely be finished by the end of this year. From there, rezoning and other aspects would begin early in 2020, followed by the start of construction late next summer. Construction would take two years.

Eastland’s overhaul would likely be done in a couple of phases. Sittema estimated more than half of the 69 vacant acres could be started on as part of the initial phase. This week, for example, Crosland-Odell met with three grocers about participating in the project. Early talks are also under way with possible office tenants and medical groups.

“Each month, our team gets more encouraged that we’re going to be able to do this,” Sittema said. “There’s still no guarantee that this deal will get done. The conversations about the public investment are going to be critical to the success of the endeavor, but we (continue to) grow in our enthusiasm here.”

Read the original article in the Charlotte Business Journal. 

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