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The Possibilities of Spring

by Hilary Coman

April 7,2008

New clothes hang in the stores, the bright colors and short hems seemingly beckoning the onset of warm weather. The dull gray of winter breaks as the forsythia (or yellow bells as I grew up calling them) shoots towards the sky. The birds seem to be singing just a little bit louder or maybe clearer. And the Davidson College Wildcats, Southern Conference champions, win their first three NCAA games in almost forty years. Really, what is there not to like about March and its important derivative March Madness?

As a fan, I get excited, tormented, even disappointed. In the Kansas-Davidson game, I veered from hope to agony in the span of 16 seconds.  As a Charlotte resident, however, I am always pleased regardless of who wins or loses. Charlotte put on a top notch show this year for back to back basketball tournaments – the CIAA and the ACC tournaments. And, we just held two of the Sweet Sixteen matchups the weekend of 28-30 March. And the crowds were crazier as UNC advanced.

Walking around Center City Charlotte during tournament time, you see not only what makes Charlotte so appealing for visitors and residents alike – the clubs, the restaurants, the entertainment and cultural options – but also a glimpse of the bustling city Charlotte is becoming. The Lynx light rail train runs full, both going and coming. The crowds positively fill every last inch of the sidewalk. People stop you on Tryon Street and ask you to take a picture of them. While relaxed, the pace of our city quickens. More people are out, more people are doing things and the hubbub of voices seems more vibrant at each street crossing. It’s amazing, impressive and wonderful all at the same time. And it’s the real thing.

During the 1994 ACC tournament in Charlotte, we basically put up a Potemkin village in the truest sense of the term, temporary restaurants in empty store fronts. We didn’t have enough actual restaurants to serve all the tournament goers so we “deputized” as many alternatives as possible. Determined to get the best word out as possible and have visitors enjoy their stay, we had a sort of instant-Center City. I remember visiting from Washington, DC for the tournament and being very impressed, if nothing else, at the ingenuity of my hometown. The mirage of a vibrant Center City seemed so achingly real. You almost wished it were so. Fourteen years later, it is. The fans are just as enthusiastic but the venues this time around are real.

I grew up in Charlotte. Unlike some, I don’t have a love/hate relationship with the Queen City. It’s one of my favorite places to be. I have, however, spent enough time away from the Crossroads, aka Trade and Tryon, to appreciate the changes and the possibilities that we have as such a young city. When I was a teenager, there weren’t many Uptown dining or entertainment options. It was mostly a place where your parents or your friends’ parents disappeared to during the day. I don’t remember the thriving hub of commerce and entertainment that my mother told me about from the 1940s and 50s. I remember a handful of stores, admittedly with some great lunch bars, most of whom had closed down or moved by the time I went to college. Seeing the streets of Uptown full of people these last few weeks with overspill crowds streaming out of bars and restaurants, however, gave me a sense of what not only it was but also what our city has and can become. I am convinced that as impressive as the changes are from 1994 to today, the changes to Center City moving forward will be even greater. I can easily imagine more Uptown residents, more street fairs and more cultural opportunities thanks to the Bechtler Art Museum, the new and renamed Harvey Gantt African-American Cultural Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Wachovia Performing Arts complex.

Our city is young and replete with such possibility and opportunity. One can only hope that the snapshots we saw during tournament time signify much more, a harbinger of things to come. Spring, after all, has sprung.

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