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As Charlotte's Center City Grows, A Conversation With One Of Its Promoters

Charlotte has been selected for the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Zuri Berry

Walk down North Tryon street in uptown Charlotte on a weekday ten years ago, and the sidewalks were bustling – lots of khaki and blue. But on weekends the center city would largely empty out. Since then, a lot has changed. The number of people living uptown has more than doubled, there’s another 2,200 hotel rooms, and about 250 places for food and drink.

Those are the latest numbers from Charlotte Center City Partners, a group that works to promote economic development in uptown, South End, West End and the area just east of uptown, known as the Metropolitan. 

Credit Charlotte Center City Partners

Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith spoke with WFAE Morning Edition Host Lisa Worf. Here are some highlights of that interview: 

Lisa Worf: What's fueling such growth in the center city?

Michael Smith: There's been this global pivot toward re-urbanization and Charlotte has had a priority to that for the last four decades and it really positioned us well to respond to it. We're really hitting on all kinds of development.

Worf: The success of uptown has had consequences for a lot of people living in neighborhoods nearby, including people being priced out. What can Center City Partners do to stop some of that displacement?

Smith: It's a stated priority in our 2020 vision plan and it will be in our next plan as well. We worked with a number of developers to try to raise the consciousness and really make sure we've got good data, good lexicon about this, so that as we make investments as a community in infrastructure and then partner with developers to help them understand the market, we let them know the need and the demand and the partnership that we're willing to bring to the table to make sure we have affordable housing in uptown and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Related story: Charlotte Companies Announce $70 Million Investment To Meet City's Affordable Housing Crisis

Worf: Unlike a lot of major cities like Chicago and New York, there's not much ground-level retail in uptown. What are the challenges in bringing more retail to the area?

Smith: It's these periods of disruption that create opportunities for urban areas, and I think we're seeing that right now. Some of the new retail you're seeing develop in South End...and also some of the edges along Stonewall, and also the re-investment that you're seeing from some of our large institutional investors in office space...There are some really great projects that have raised retail as a part of their values.  

Related story: Charlotte Talks: Big Picture Update On Uptown Development

Worf:  Uptown has seen so many new hotels - clearly there's a demand there. Why should the city use hospitality and tourism tax dollars to subsidize the building of a big hotel connected to the Convention Center?

Smith: A really important component that supports the very large hospitality industry and workforce in our community is the convention business. The convention business does a great job of bringing guests to town and the beauty of those guests is you're not adding fire stations, police stations or schools to educate their kids. They come, they spend money. It employs many Charlotteans and it's a little bit of an arm's race to make sure that you have the assets necessary to compete for the best conventions. Part of that arsenal these days are large, thousand-room hotels that are directly connected and part of the convention center. It's something we're going to have to continue to look at and study. I think there's some pretty good research that shows that the cities that we compete with have made this investment and that it is paying dividends for them.

Worf: That's because of the size, the connection to the convention that that investment is too much for the private market to bear? It does seem there are a lot of hotels going up. 

Smith: Yeah, these are full-service. They have large amounts of meeting space. Providing large amounts of meeting space is something that is traditionally provided collectively through cities that want to compete for this part of the business.  

Worf: We have the All-Star Game coming up. What is center city going to be like those few days?

Smith: What an exciting time to be able to welcome so much of the sports and entertainment world to our city, to be able to know us as an incredible destination and as a center of commerce. It's going to be a really exciting time. A lot of parties, a lot of cameos, a lot of really incredible talent and corporate leadership.