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Excelsior Club Stay Of Demolition Ends, Future Remains Uncertain

Sarah Delia

The fate of Charlotte’s historic Excelsior Club remains uncertain. A one-year moratorium on demolishing the building expired on Wednesday, June 12. The Excelsior opened in 1944 and became of hub of African-American social and civic life in Charlotte – and hosted the likes of Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and James Brown.

The club closed in 2016, after falling into disrepair. The property on Beatties Ford Road remains on the market for $1.5 million. The mortgage to the site is currently held by State Representative Carla Cunningham – widow of former Excelsior owner Pete Cunningham. Ms. Cunningham declined to be interviewed. But we did reach Steve Robinson, owner of New River Brokerage, which is handling the prospective sale of the Excelsior Club.   

Mark Rumsey: Mr. Robinson, good afternoon.

Steve Robinson: Good afternoon Mark.

Rumsey: This is a rather complicated story. Just for starters can you tell us the current status of the old Excelsior Club?

Robinson: In terms of a prospective sale and or demolition of the building to date we've had several offers...a few offers here and there, none of which proved to be sufficient to warrant engagement, for lack of a better phrase. The interest has been good, it's been steady, but we're still waiting to see if someone is prepared to bring an offer for Ms. Cunningham, which she would be amenable.

Rumsey: Well, can you say what category of interest this is? In other words, what the prospective buyers might be interested in doing with that property?

Robinson: Well, it's difficult to say. I mean, I know that some will engage as far as what they think might be ideal for the property, but what they would ultimately do would kind of remain to be seen. There've been several parties that have expressed interest in the property that have not brought offers or, you know, taken it any further. And just initial conversations have indicated things like reopening as a jazz club or reopening as a club for those that would be 35 and older. And so the uses and the inclination certainly vary.

Rumsey: As I mentioned, we've been unable to speak with Carla Cunningham, the current owner of the property. Can you say what her intentions for the building and land would be in the absence of a sale?

Robinson: Ms. Cunningham had indicated to me long ago that it was never her intention to be in the business of operating a nightclub. She also knew that after having retaken possession of the property from the previous owners the amount of work necessary to bring the property up to code was just absolutely insurmountable.

The truth of the matter is in the absence of a sale she will wait and see if an order comes from the city for demolition. And, you know, certainly other considerations are in the form of code violations for which she can be monetarily punished. Her primary goal was to obey the law. The law says very simply - pay these fines associated with code violations and you have this long of a period of time to bring it up to code and during which we will continue to monetarily punish you. And then we'll tell you when the building will ultimately be demolished if these things are not rectified.

So that has been a lot of the pressure that's been applied. This has never been fantastic news for anybody and neither has it been for Ms. Cunningham. She merely wanted to stay in compliance with what the law would require. And I think she's done so, and now we're just a little closer to that 11th hour and hopefully something more positive will result.

Rumsey: Last month, the National Trust for Historic Places listed the Excelsior among the 11 most endangered places in the country according to that organization. But I'm just wondering, has the push overall for a historic preservation of the Excelsior Club had in any way a negative effect on interest among prospective buyers that maybe they just don't want to deal with the complications of that?

Robinson: Oddly, no. Mark, I’ve actually seen the opposite. The initial contacts that I've had of substance since that announcement have been extraordinarily positive to continue that very process. Not so much to say, 'hey, hot dog. I think I could I could put a fast food restaurant here, or I could put a six pump gas station in place.' But rather the opposite. You know, how could we make this work and continue its role as an icon in the community and a historic property and then still be able to reap a degree of benefit as an income producing property for the foreseeable and far future?

And all the other aspects of what's being done around it. There are multiple listings in that same corridor that have been on the market, one of which has been on the market for about a year now. And the prices are very commensurate with what's going on at the Excelsior. And so it's not just a fly by night sort of approach to the property. And the investors that have the tangible weight behind them have begun that process and it's kind of what we call tire kickers. You know eventually they'll walk through and they'll kick enough and then they'll say okay I better put myself in a spot where this property can be locked up before somebody else gets it in front of me. And I've had that conversation in just the past week. So it's encouraging. And most of them are not driving toward trying to find a way to demolish the property and repurpose it.

Rumsey: That's Steve Robinson, owner of New River Brokerage which is handling the prospective sale of Charlotte's historic Excelsior Club on Beatties Ford Road. Mr. Robinson thanks for your time.

Robinson: Quite welcome sir. Thank you for having me.

Mark Rumsey grew up in Kansas and got his first radio job at age 17 in the town of Abilene, where he announced easy-listening music played from vinyl record albums.