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Charlotte Considers Proposals For Carolina Theatre

The interior of the Carolina Theatre photographed in 2009.

The Charlotte Economic Development Committee is planning a trip to the theater. Committee members decided Thursday they need to go see the historic Carolina Theatre - and just how rundown it's become - to help them decide between two proposals to renovate it.

The Carolina Theatre used to be an old, Southern gem. Now, it’s just an old, empty building in a key spot uptown.

"It’s at the intersection of 6th and Tryon streets - it is almost like the missing tooth in a smile," said Brad Richardson, economic development manager for the city. "This is a main street of Charlotte, so it’s a very important site."

The Carolina Theatre shut down in the late '70s, and it’s gradually fallen apart since. It’s now owned by the city, which is debating two proposals for renovating it.

One aims to make the theater a destination for shows once again. In its old glory, stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley performed there. Developer Jim Donnelly of Camden Management Partners said he wants to restore that tradition.

"Where does that really cool group want to come and perform in Charlotte?" Donnelly asked. "Do they want to perform down in South Tryon in a sort of pristine – no, they want to come to just a kick-butt historic place that’s got amazing character."

Donnelly’s plan also includes a restaurant and condos or possibly a hotel. His plan isn’t really new – the city told Donnelly’s group to go for it back in 2006. But then the economy tanked, the project stalled and the company’s agreement with the city expired.

That created an opening for a different proposal.

"We think it would be quicker to do something on that corner if it were an office complex," said Michael Marsicano, CEO of Foundation for the Carolinas.

He said there's no appetite for more condos or hotels in this market, or even another theater.

"We envision that the arts would be a secondary use, and that the theater would function more as an auditorium for town hall meetings, panel discussions, symposia, debates, things of that nature," Marsicano said.

Marsicano said there could still be performances, but they wouldn’t take priority.

His foundation is offering the city $1 to buy the Carolina Theatre, while Donnelly’s group isn’t even offering that.

But the members of the Economic Development Committee are OK with those offers. They say it’d be enormously expensive for the city to redevelop the site, so they’d rather let someone else do it.

For now, the committee members decided they need to go see the theater for themselves. They’ll meet again in a few months to choose the best proposal to replace that missing tooth in uptown’s smile.