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The Look of Things to Come

by Emily Williams

November 8,2009

For anyone who attended the Charlotte ViewPoint “A Smarter Charlotte” conference on October 15th at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, the stark reality of Charlotte’s metamorphosis in the last several years really became apparent. A lot of us talked about how the city could (or should) develop and the impact of our design decisions over the long haul. Uptown Charlotte was a specific target here, which naturally got me thinking about my own feelings on how far we have come in the last 10 years or so.

Since arriving in Charlotte in 1991, I’ve been a witness to the city’s significant milestones in growth, however slow the process: Panther’s Stadium, the demolishing of the dearly departed Hornets Arena (for which the motivation is something I still cannot understand), ImaginOn, The Mint Museum of Craft + Design, the multifarious EpiCenter, the Lynx train, Time Warner Arena, The Westin and countless condo and office buildings. But as several new venues are opening or have opened this fall, evaluation of where we came from and where precisely we are going may be in order.

All within the span of a few blocks in the middle of uptown, several exciting prospects are popping up. Let’s start with Tryon Street. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art will finally offer the ground zero for 20th and 21st century artwork in Charlotte, while The Knight Theater will provide the happy medium (size wise) between the McGlohan and Belk Theaters. A few blocks over, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel is being squeezed in between the EpiCenter and Founders Hall on College Street. And quite close to the arena, on Brevard Street., NASCAR’s Hall of Fame is almost complete.

Out of breath? It may feel slightly overwhelming, but the good news is that Charlotte is growing with haste uptown and there will be even more cultural supplements to savor in the coming years. We are at a turning point on the road to greater development. Right? Well, there are always pros and cons to any situation where change is taking over. Yes, we have growth, but the construction uptown seems to be never ending. In the last few years, the arena has been the scapegoat of severe congestion and lack of parking near College Street and it sometimes seems to makes sense. When there’s an event at the arena and at least two different shows playing at the Blumenthal, getting in and out of the inner city can be a headache as everyone scrambles to either park in the same spot you’re attempting to park in or to catch the train. Charlotte is indeed expanding, but it’s all happening within the perimeter of I-277, which only has so much room to spare.

Given the growing pains, there are many people who would gladly have things back to the way they were only a few years ago, before the building boom took off. I have a particular sense of nostalgia for the skywalk – now gone – that connected the Bank of America parking deck to Founders Hall. It made everything so easy and hassle-free, especially when it was raining or cold outside. For older individuals who have to deal with arthritis or wheelchair accessibility (members of my own family included), it was indeed convenient. Now there isn’t a choice. And when accommodations do not fit everyone, many people believe it should be fixed. Yet, for those who bemoan the present and long for the not-so-distant past, what about the future? If we want to remain in the past and continue to be a medium-scale city, how will we seriously grow?

Perhaps all of these nuisances are necessary. It’s possible that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture, namely what Charlotte will look and feel like after the various renovations have ended and the scaffolding is removed. We evolve as a community every time a new museum or facility opens, uptown or otherwise, which is why we should learn to cope with the road delays and detours that currently befuddle us. This is a fantastic time to live in Charlotte: there are a lot of ideas on the horizon, so let’s push forward into discovering what lies in store for us. We may be pleasantly surprised.

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