By Alison Kuznitz, Charlotte Observer
January 29, 2020
The city of Charlotte and developer Crosland Southeast filed a rezoning petition Monday aimed at transforming part of the former Eastland Mall site into the future headquarters and practice facilities for the city’s new Major League Soccer expansion team.
The filing, which was made public Wednesday, marked a critical milestone to revitalize the 78-acre property that’s sat vacant for years in east Charlotte. The city bought the mall in 2012 for $13.2 million and demolished the buildings.
Beyond MLS, the rezoning push allows Eastland to incorporate a mix of commercial and residential spaces, in addition to offices, hotels, transit facilities and a public park, according to the petition obtained by The Charlotte Observer.
“This has an opportunity to create a larger impact on the east side,” Tracy Dodson, assistant city manager and economic development director, told the Observer. “I do advocate that the city can’t do one project and walk away — we have to pay attention to opportunities on the east side.”
The Charlotte City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning petition this spring, said Tim Sittema, managing partner at Crosland Southeast.
Sittema said the petition represents a high-level vision for Eastland, one that will be fine-tuned during ongoing development and permitting agreements.
For example, those discussions would pinpoint the exact scope of a “vibrant public park” outlined in the petition, which allocates at least 2 acres to be used for green space. A combination of open areas, plazas and parks are intended as the focal points for Eastland, according to the rezoning petition.
And those development conversations would clarify the breakdown of housing units — such as single-family, multi-family or town homes — anticipated for the rear portion of the Eastland site, Sittema said.
“We are one step closer to seeing an economic catalyst in east Charlotte, and it will be a destination point for our region once again,” City Council member Dimple Ajmera said in an interview.
Engineering and design work for the overall Eastland site could span 10 to 12 months, Dodson predicted.
Construction would begin before the end of the year, with initial project goals focusing on MLS, as well as some of the commercial and residential areas, Sittema said. The soccer facilities will comprise approximately one-third of the Eastland property, located alongside Central Avenue.
“My understanding is that the final soccer program would include two professional fields, and quite a number of additional fields for community use,” Sittema told the Observer in an interview. “The exact number has to be determined, but it will be substantial.”
Crosland Southeast, the developer behind Birkdale Village in Huntersville, had long hoped to incorporate a sports-related anchor at Eastland to spur renewed interest and investment in the area.
That plan intensified in mid-December, when the city committed to set aside $110 million in tourism dollars as part of its bid with billionaire Panthers owner David Tepper to help secure the 30th MLS team.
“We’ve been thrilled with the feedback we’re hearing,” said Sittema, who emphasized that more than 700 residents have attended a series of public meetings about Eastland. “There is very broad support in the community for the soccer component and general excitement about the process we’re making with this development.”
It’s highly unlikely that the MLS infrastructure will be built and ready to use ahead of the team’s inaugural 2021 season, Dodson said.
Interim plans to accommodate the team will require continued collaboration between Tepper Sports and Entertainment, Crosland Southeast and the city, Sittema said.
It remains unclear how Charlotte will allocate tourism revenues to support the Eastland project.
In a November letter, Mayor Vi Lyles told MLS Commissioner Don Garber that the $110-million pledge could be split among Eastland, renovations to Bank of America Stadium where the soccer team will play, and an entertainment district linking uptown and the Gateway District.
The city won’t be releasing any of those funds until Tepper gives adequate assurance that the Panthers and MLS are staying in Charlotte for the long-term future — and not relocating to South Carolina, Dodson had emphasized earlier this month at the annual City Council retreat.
Dodson couldn’t specify in an interview this week what the length of a tether agreement with either sports team might entail. Still, she emphasized Charlotte and Tepper have committed to a partnership that will generate a strong economic impact throughout the city.
“The stars are aligning,” Dodson said. “We’re lucky to have Tepper — we are fortunate. His work expands MLS beyond center city.”