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Q and A with Tony Pressley

by Mark Peres

May 4,2005

Tell us about the history of Historic South End as we know it today.

While the neighborhood was established as a neighborhood in 1852 when the railroad arrived from the south, modern day history began in the early 90’s. The City, recognizing that the original business corridors were suffering from dis-investment and becoming blighted, issued bonds to make improvements in hopes of jump starting re-development. South Blvd was the first such corridor to benefit and the City invited a group of neighborhood “stakeholders” to participate in planning and prioritizing the improvements. As a result, a public-private partnership was born that continues today. The original stakeholder group went on the become an organized committee, then a non-profit and today is a special tax district raising some $300,000+ a year to fund ongoing neighborhood improvements and initiatives, like the recent Art and Soul Festival among many other things.

How would you describe the character of Historic South End?

Historic South End has emerged as a Design District serving the region, and it is well on its way to distinguishing Charlotte as an emerging Design City of America. South End today has, at last count, 228 design firms (out of 450-500 businesses or so total) located in the District. While its fascinating to some that a design district has emerged, the neighborhood has always had a strong tradition of Innovation, Creativity and Design. What is happening today is merely a continuation of a legacy that started with D.A. Tompkins, E.D. Latta, Stewart Cramer, and other turn-of-the-last-century pioneers who I am sure are smiling favorably upon us.

What are the guiding principals of development in South End?

Everyone is welcome. Including Lowes. However, anyone new to the area should take stock of what the area is all about and adapt to the environment. South End is urban. It has an Industrial/Manufacturing feel even to this day and there is no place for the typical suburban model that some have tried and failed to impose on the community. The community is about density (since our available land mass is small), mixed use, and as stated earlier, Innovation, Creativity and Design. Those that come into South End should strive to add value and can best achieve that by becoming engaged before putting the sticks and bricks on the ground or attempting to adaptively re-use one of the existing buildings.

How would you assess the district’s relationship with Charlotte Center City Partners?

It’s POSITIVE. We have been through a tough 2+ year transition period with staff turnover, but we are excited about Michael Smith being named to replace Tim Newman at Center City Partners. The decision to merge made good financial sense, it will help our neighborhood become stronger, and the sooner we get the entire Urban Center to come together with one voice, the better Charlotte will be able to compete with other Urban Centers. That is not to say we have to lose the South End “brand,” or that any other Urban Neighborhood has to relinquish its character. There are many examples of how distinct neighborhoods have come together in other great Cities.

What is the future of South End?

Great neighborhoods have to have a real economy, providing real jobs and real wages that create demand for housing, then services. We are playing out this model of development and feel truly blessed to have developed such a large following among the greater Design Industry. That industry is huge and even with all our success to date, we have not begun to scratch the surface as to what can be. It’s for that reason we will continue to target every such opportunity. At the same time we desire an improved quality of life and not just economic success. It’s for that reason we will continue to embrace the Arts, especially the emerging arts. Of course, the Trolley has had a tremendous positive impact on the neighborhood, and beginning in 2007 we will have Light Rail service. One challenge will be to manage the change, since, as I have said for some time, we can still screw this thing up.

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