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Corridors of Opportunity

by Patrick McCrory

April 6,2007

The skylines of most major U.S. cities are unique and very distinguishable to the point that you can differentiate and name cities just by looking at pictures of skylines in a stack of photos. Most would never confuse the Sears Tower or Hancock Building in the Chicago skyline with the Transamerica building in the San Francisco skyline or the Empire State Building in the New York City skyline with the Bank of America Tower in the Charlotte skyline. While many cities and companies like to focus on developing unique and signature skylines, the same has not been true for the main business corridors beyond the skylines.

Consider the Freedom Drive corridor, North Tryon Street corridor, Central Avenue corridor by Eastland Mall, many parts of the South Boulevard corridor, and the Wilkinson Boulevard corridor. If you drive down any of these main Charlotte business corridors, you would not be able to distinguish if you were in Charlotte, as opposed to Atlanta, Pittsburgh, or Kansas City. These Charlotte corridors could simply be Anywhere, USA.

Past zoning, development, and land-use practices utilized by local governments and developers across the country have not served cities well over the past three decades and now we are paying the price. I was recently criticized when I used the term “Corridor of Crap” when talking about the Central Avenue corridor in front of Eastland Mall after an Urban Land Institute panel recommended a very impressive plan for redeveloping Eastland Mall. I had also used the same words in the past to describe the South Boulevard corridor. I realize I should have used better words to describe these corridors, as my intent was not to offend or impugn the businesses in those corridors, but rather to point out how government and developers made mistakes in building those business corridors.

These corridors are the livelihoods for many neighborhoods and are employment centers for the citizens of Charlotte, yet they are strip malls after strip malls, seas of asphalt with no trees or landscaping, poor pedestrian features and now many are congested roadways with stop light after stop light. These should be unique and distinct villages that add to the overall beauty and character of Charlotte or the ribbons that highlight the many special features of Charlotte. The bad news is that it will take a lot of money and many years to correct. The good news is that we have realized the past mistakes and have begun to address these corridors. Our goal is to not have these corridors be Anywhere, USA anymore.

One of the first efforts in our Corridor revitalization strategy began more than a decade ago and included the new streetscape improvements along Wilkinson Boulevard, including the acquisition of land by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Development Corporation, to create the new Wilkinson Business Park and the recent road work to realign the access road to I-85 off of Wilkinson Boulevard. This City investment has led to the new Wal-Mart development at Wilkinson and Ashley Road, which is a development that has staying power with outparcel buildings that hide the much larger Wal-Mart building and include parking and landscaping amenities that make for an overall attractive development.

The City of Charlotte has invested in many other corridors such as the streetscape and median improvements on Central Avenue, the South Boulevard improvements to support the light rail line, and the Freedom Drive road improvements near Morehead Street, including the gateway art pillars. These improvements, coupled with private sector efforts, are helping to transform these critical business corridors and give them distinct identities that are attracting new customers and new investments. We are seeing the transformation of the old Midtown Square, near Uptown, plus innovative building concepts for the new Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, near South End, on South Boulevard. Both developments are incorporating new land-use and development guidelines to make sure these projects will enhance the corridors for decades to come.

My goal is to have our main business corridors become as positively identified as our skyline and that no corridors in Charlotte will be identified as Anywhere, USA. We still have a lot of work to do, but I believe we are on the right path to achieving that goal.

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