A look at Charlotte’s future
Posted on 25 Aug 2008 by Justin Ritchie
On Saturday, August 24th, Staying Ahead Carolina hosted Charlotte’s Master Plan, a panel discussion on the next five years of Queen City development. Participating in the panel were members from across the various development sectors which will determine Charlotte’s infrastructure and cultural future. In a small room packed to capacity, the energy of Charlotte’s development was palpable in the air.
Starting the discussion, CATS CEO Keith Parker outlined the intense reversal the Charlotte community has experienced in its attitude towards transit. A year ago at this time, there was serious effort to cripple the bus infrastructure and rail transit growth in the form of the “Vote For Repeal of the Transit Tax” campaign. Now, the Charlotte transit system is experiencing bus ridership levels that are its highest in 60 years (when streetcars ran throughout the city) and the rail line is seeing almost 17,000 daily trips, the usage predicted for the year 2025.
Parker discussed the new face of Charlotte transit. As an international example for land-use tied to transit, groups from Ontario, Tampa and Seattle are coming to tour the success of the Lynx light-rail line over the next few months. To ensure that the future of the transit system will meet Charlotte’s needs, CATS will embark on a local listening tour so that the upcoming transportation budget can be built “from the ground up”. Additionally, the continued commitment to a quality bus service is evident as Charlotte has around 400 buses while Atlanta has around 600 with nearly four times the population. A new route between uptown and the airport will incorporate hybrid buses for energy efficiency with GPS tracking technology at each stop to display the amount of time between each bus arrival. CATS will also review the opportunity to build rail instead of bus rapid transit (BRT) along Independence Blvd. over the next few years, however there are no national examples of rail in the center of a road as busy as Independence.
Next, Mark Hahn of Mecklenburg Real Estate Services talked about how Charlotte’s unique collaboration between public and private partnerships have led to some special development over the last few years and will lead to more in the future. As Mecklenburg county looks to sell land uptown to high-profile developers, quality projects will unfold. Hahn’s biggest focus over the next few years will be public buildings utilizing LEED standards. The new county offices in the renovated Freedom Mall will include floor level air circulation units which ensure that A/C stays near the people that need it and that heating will rise in the winter. All the new projects in Mecklenburg county will shoot for at least some level of LEED certification as construction firms in the area gain experience at meeting the city’s new focus on constructing environmentally sensitive buildings.
As Senior Vice President of the Arts and Science Council, Robert Bush spoke on Charlotte’s art and culture growth, it was apparent that the Queen City is truly a creative community. A newly introduced website will provide a central focus for local and cultural events as CharlotteCultureGuide.com indexes multiple public and private sources. With over 93 public arts projects developed sine 1981, 45 are currently in progress with many more in the works. By tallying the attendance at all cultural events in any given year, Arts and Science Council monitored events bring in 40% more attendees than athletic events if all games and races were sold out. Beginning this year, Charlotte will add itself to a national creative index so that we can compare with other creative communities like Portland, Nashville and Seattle.
To end the outline of Charlotte’s Master Plan, Moira Quinn of Center City Partners pointed out that people in Charlotte don’t realize they live in one of the most vibrant and exciting urban areas of the United States. She discussed examples of how people in Denver, Portland, Pittsburgh and New York constantly wish to have the economic and cultural growth that Charlotte is experiencing. As Charlotte’s center grows along with the city, the next few decades will see a population expansion equivalent to the entire size of a city like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. By hiring directors of retail and transportation, Uptown will see increased options for shopping and parking. With consistently the lowest downtown vacancy rate in the nation, (Charlotte at 2%, Manhattan at 5% and Atlanta at 19% rounding out the three least vacant US city centers) new projects like the upcoming Wachovia tower are quickly being fully leased. With over $7 billion of investment in Uptown over the last ten years, effective city management has ensured that over 90% of that has been through private sources.
The panel then discussed what was essential to Charlotte’s future, like the upcoming fall 2008 vote on the $250 million for public parks. The bond package will include Bearden Park, a piece of land to honor the 3rd ward native and revolutionary jazz artist with green space that will be aesthetically optimized by local artists. Replacing the New Year’s Celebrations of the past will be a return to First Night, a community-wide and family-friendly way to ring in the new year. With a local call for artists to participate, First Night 2009 is sure to reflect the talent and beauty of the city.
As the after panel reception wrapped up the crowd was energized and excited about the future of our community.