Shopping for Uptown retail
Posted on 20 Feb 2009 by Justin Ritchie
photo: Justin Ritchie; view this photo on Flickr
Uptown Charlotte is already an attraction, luring crowds from across the Carolinas by offering the NBA, NFL, nightlife, arts and culture, and fine dining. Yet the Center City still lacks personality. The humanity and convenience of storefronts along the streets can replace the faceless glass of what was once nothing more than a 9–5 neighborhood.
Built in the early days of Charlotte’s rise to national banking prominence, our buildings at Trade and Tryon make for a glittering but unfulfilling core for the city. That can change according to a vision from Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP).
After posting a few images last April from the 2008 announcement of CCCP’s plans for Uptown, I wanted to follow up with the Center City Partners to see how much closer we are to obtaining the vision. Like every other development opportunity in the US, retail in Uptown Charlotte is currently at a standstill due to the inability for retailers to finance improvements. Even if store owners were able to get loans, few are looking to expand in a recession.
image courtesy of: Center City Partners
Many buildings in the city’s center were clearly not built for street-level store fronts, requiring significant improvements to house shopping options for pedestrians. Even though Trade and Tryon was once home to a Belk’s department store that opened in the early 1900s, the cheap gasoline and inexpensive vehicles of the 1960s drove shoppers and their stores to areas like the now defunct Eastland mall. Another 60 years may be required to reverse the trend.
Center City Partners has been meeting with its stakeholders to start building certainty around the cost of upgrades but without an interested developer those barriers aren’t likely to be removed any time soon. In tough economic times building owners are more focused on retaining office tenants than expanding offerings.
However, the old saying for retailers goes, “retail follows rooftops” and with a significant number of housing developments slated for completion over the next two years, a burgeoning Uptown residential population may be reason enough for retail developers to take a chance. As additional attractions and infrastructure are completed, the annual average of 25 million unique visits to Center City will only increase. Planning and Development Analyst for Center City Partners said, “We only need one retailer to take a chance for everyone to discover the vast success awaiting store owners willing to enter Charlotte’s center.”
Unfortunately, unique local retail would be initially priced out of expensive redevelopment, limiting initial offerings to national names only. And sometimes even the big guys find rent costs for dense areas too high, as demonstrated by the recent closing of the Home Depot design center.
Out of the existing space in current buildings, CCCP found that 1,374,203 square feet is used for retail with 250,000 SF available for consumer or retail goods without significant upgrades. If you want a feel for how much street-level space is wasted, walk inside many of the uptown lobbies with their lofty ceilings and open spaces. By bringing banks and developers to the same table, Center City Partners will hope to be ready for any impending economic upswings.
Ultimately, Center City Partners wants Uptown to be the living room of the region and nothing would be finer than another reason to linger in the most exciting urban area of the Carolinas.