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Unless Someone Steps Up, Historic Excelsior Club Likely Gone for Good

The Excelsior Club, Charlotte’s first African American-owned club, is officially in foreclosure. It opened in 1944, and at one point it was a center for African American social and political activity on Charlotte’s west side.

Surrounded by family and community leaders, James Ferguson, the club’s owner for the last 10 years, read a prepared statement outside of the club Wednesday, but took no questions.

The club closed in June for renovations. Ferguson said the challenges of those upgrades proved too great.

"With our doors closed, we were unable to meet the club’s financial obligations including mortgages, taxes and other obligations that we expected to meet," Ferguson read from his statement. 

Carla Cunningham—a representative in the North Carolina General Assembly and widow of Pete Cunningham, a former owner of the Excelsior Club, has initiated foreclosure proceedings. She holds the mortgage to the club.

Former club owner Ken Koontz attended Wednesday's press conference. He owned the club for three years in the 1980s, and during that time worked to secure its status as a local historic landmark. He says The Excelsior Club means different things to different people.

"If you've been here prior to 1990, your probably know a little something about the Excelsior Club...post 1990, it probably hasn't meant as much to as many people as it did before hand. That simply is just  because of the dynamics of the population," Koontz said.

He points out the club's significance was what it stood for and how it provided opportunities for people,  especially African Americans. 

"To me the history is so significant and those who don't know their history are generally destined to repeat it," Koontz said.

As for why the club has run into problems, Koontz says socioeconomic changes posed a challenge. 

Koontz says he has his own dream for saving the Excelsior Club. The key part, he says, is making sure it's not treated as a nonprofit. 

"Unless somebody comes up with a model that is going to make it a profitable venture, then they are just as we say, just pissing in the wind!" he said, laughing.

On a more serious note, Koontz added that if the club never reopens, it will be a huge blow to the Charlotte community.

"If I could put it in the context of the human body, to me, they will have lost the heart."

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.