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Housing Disagreement Alters Plans For 7th & Tryon Project

Drawing shows the concept for a redevelopment of two blocks along North Tryon Street in Charlotte.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library/DaVinci Development Collaborative
The Seventh & Tryon project uptown has been scaled back from its original two-block plan, and no longer includes affordable housing.

Plans for a major redevelopment of two-blocks along North Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte have fallen apart after several partners involved couldn't agree on key issues - including how the project might include affordable housing. County officials say affordable housing won't be part of a new scaled-down version of the  Seventh & Tryon project - though affordable housing could be built outside uptown.

GWENDOLYN GLENN: With me now to talk about the news is WFAE reporter David Boraks. David, give us a little background on this project and who's involved. 

BORAKS: The Seventh & Tryon project was supposed to cover two blocks of North Tryon and North College streets, between Sixth and Eighth streets. It started out in 2015 as a single-block project, just involving the Main Library and Spirit Square. In 2016, it was broadened to include the 7th to 8th street block. 

It involves land owned by Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Bank of America and the city of Charlotte.  It's all part of the broader North Tryon Vision Plan, which calls for transforming the north end of uptown.  Two years ago, the landowners began looking for a developer for a project that would include shops, offices, and a hotel and affordable and market-rate apartments, as well as a new Main Library.  Five development teams sought the job and for the last year or so, the partners have been negotiating with one of them. 

Some buildings would remain - the McGlohon Theater and Duckworth's Tap House & Grill, and the Hall House, also known as the Barringer Hotel. It's currently owned by the Charlotte Housing Authority and formerly was used as affordable housing. Under the original plan, it was slated to become a boutique hotel.

GLENN: It sounds like there's a lot of complicated negotiations going on here. Where do things stand now? 

BORAKS:   That 2-block plan from 2016 appears to be dead.  the Charlotte Observer first reported this news and used the word "collapsed" to describe the deal. I've talked today to both Mecklenburg County and Inlivian, the new name of the Charlotte Housing Authority. And here's what I've learned: 

The four partners have been working with a master developer to try and make it happen.  County officials say Inlivian decided not to sell its property.  Inlivian says it never planned to sell. Instead, it wants to lease the property to a developer, and it's proposing a plan of its own for the land it owns. 

Meanwhile, in November, the library unveiled a design for a new five-story Main Library, on just part of its current site. That left the rest of the library site for redevelopment. The current Main Library will be torn down in two years and the new one is expected to open in 2024.  The new library will have a ground-floor cafe, outdoor terraces on the second floor and roof, and a curved block of upper floors. 

GLENN:  So you said affordable housing is at the center of this. What happened? 

BORAKS:  Right, so people may remember that from the beginning, the partners have talked about how important it is to include affordable housing in this project. Some have said it's only fair that maintenance and service workers - the people who mop the floors and serve your coffee uptown -  deserve a chance to live near their jobs - just like uptown's other office workers do. 

But it seems that's easier said than done. County Manager Dena Diorio says the partners looked at a half-dozen options for developing affordable housing. But it's not financially feasible to put affordable housing here - land is too expensive, she says. 

Instead, she says the county has plans - as part of this project - to develop affordable units off site. In a statement provided to WFAE, Diorio says the county can do 3 times the number of units off site if it does it this way. The focus would be on housing for people who make below 30% of the area median income, about $24,000 a year for a family of four.  

GLENN: What do those plans look like? 

BORAKS: Details are sketchy. The county manager says only that a "significant number" of units are planned in "high opportunity locations throughout the city and Mecklenburg County.” 

GLENN: What does the Housing Authority want? 

BORAKS: There's a bit of a he-said-she-said here. The county says Inlivian insisted on a "preferred return" or partial ownership of the overall project. 

Inlivian says owning land uptown is a "valuable asset that will only increase." It says a land lease isn't unusual.  

Inlivian also notes that many affordable housing deals have a sunset date - like 30 years. It wants to maintain ownership so it can serve families 99 years from now. 

GLENN: So tell us more about what's the Seventh & Tryon plan looks like now. 

BORAKS:  It's still a bit unclear, but the current project is now a block and a half instead of two full blocks, according to the county. That includes part of the current library site, most of the current Spirit Square (except the McGlohon Theatre) and land along 7th Street that's currently a parking lot and a CMPD station.  The plan would still be for shops, offices and housing, though it would be market-rate housing. That could mean apartments going for more than the city average - that's more than $1,400 a month right now. 

The county says it's in final negotiations with the master developer.  That's been true for a while now. We're all just waiting to see if they can work something out.