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Uptown Girl

by Shannon Polson

May 6,2007

My love affair with downtown started when I was a little girl. Most Saturdays, four generations of women in my family would pile into our yellow Ford wagon, complete with faux wood paneling, and head for Charlotte’s shopping mecca – the downtown department stores. For a five year old, the only destination that seems remotely close is your back yard. So this was a journey. If my Grandmother Baker was driving, we were in for a treat. She would zip down 10th Street and pick up speed right before Davidson Street. Our car would fly over the road as we hit the peak of the hill. Squeals would resonate from the back seat as my sister and I held on.

Some of the details are fuzzy – details a young girl needn’t concern herself with. I don’t remember where we parked, if it cost anything, how far we had to walk. But I remember walking into Belk and feeling delighted. A five year old that excited about shopping? Not exactly. The excitement was for the lunch counter that was perched high above the sales floor. Nothing was better than a grilled cheese sandwich and French fries after a long morning of shopping. It was a great day if a swivel stool was vacant and I could watch the cook expertly craft my white bread, cheese, and butter into a culinary masterpiece.

Years passed and the stores closed. The Saturday crowds headed to Eastland Mall and SouthPark Mall. But I still held a fondness for downtown. On days my mom would pick up my dad from work, my sister and I would tag along. He worked in an older downtown building, then an elegant tower of office space. As we waited, still in the same yellow wagon, at the loading dock, we would watch for the rats that would dart in and out of the dumpster area. We weren’t that interested in the rats, but we did think it was funny when a finely dressed lady in heels would walk along a path that only a few seconds earlier had been traipsed upon by a rodent. When we thought we had a little extra time (no cell phones then to communicate delays), my sister and I would head across the street to the flag turret at Marshall Park. It was our castle in the city. We were princesses when we looked out to the vast expanse of Marshall Park. It appeared as a flowering haven amongst the buildings. But not to last. My mom would honk the horn and we would head for home.

Pass many years and a name change – Uptown. During visits home from college, I would schedule lunches with my dad. My favorite lunch spots were Spratt’s in Founders Hall and a cafeteria style restaurant in the BB&T building. The downtown crowd looked so distinguished and important. I couldn’t wait to graduate and take the corporate world by storm. That was the year the resettlement of downtown/uptown began. 400 North Church, the five story condo building at Church and 5th, was the first building that got my attention. It looked so cosmopolitan – and it had a price tag to match. After college I chose a more affordable option and rented a 500 square foot studio at Gateway Place. Downtown living lived up to my day dreaming. I loved every minute of it – walking to work, walking to restaurants, being in the center of the universe.

With so many changes taking place – high rise condo towers being announced every week, a baseball stadium – I wonder what downtown will feel like, what the soul of the city will be in five years. Will downtown be a place for everyone? Will all races, ages, and social classes be welcome? Will they feel welcome? With Charlotte becoming more diverse each year, I trust that city leaders and developers will factor in all populations as they form the landscape. My biggest fear would be a center city that attracts only a small portion of this city’s great people. But maybe it’s not up to city leaders and developers. We all must take ownership of our city and of the responsibility to share the resources of Charlotte with everyone.

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