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East Charlotte residents want sports complex, not esports. They’re worried the city isn’t listening

 Greg Asciutto of CharlotteEAST is backing a proposal to build in an indoor amateur sports complex on the Eastland Mall site.
Steve Harrison
Greg Asciutto of CharlotteEAST is backing a proposal to build in an indoor amateur sports complex on the Eastland Mall site.

More than 200 east Charlotte residents and community leaders are asking the city to back a proposed indoor amateur sports complex for the Eastland Mall site instead of a proposal that includes a concert venue and an esports hub.

Greg Asciutto, with CharlotteEAST, a community organization, said amateur sports will serve both east Charlotte and the broader community.

“Amateur sports, as it’s presented, will be a huge economic driver for our community,” he said. “This is something we have heard not just from folks in east Charlotte that’s needed, but for the larger area, that there isn’t a facility like this. Rock Hill would probably be the most analogous.”

He has created a petition with signatures of people from nearby neighborhoods like Wilora Lake, Coventry Woods and Devonshire who support the amateur sports idea. The Latin American Coalition — influential in an area with one of the biggest concentrations of Latino residents in the city — has also signed the petition.

Over the last decade, Charlotte has considered a number of proposals for Eastland Mall, which was demolished in 2013.

Movie studios. A ski jump. A Charlotte FC soccer training center.

All flopped, for various reasons.

The city is debating what to build on the eastern part of the Eastland site.
City of Charlotte
The city is debating what to build on the eastern part of the Eastland site.

While Crosland Southeast is developing most of the site with residences and offices, the city still has two competing finalists for nearly 30 acres on the east side of the old mall site:

  • The esports center would have room for 2,500 people. There would also be an outdoor amphitheater for 5,000 people, six multi-sport artificial turf fields and a Charlotte Soccer Academy facility. The group development group includes Southern Entertainment, Charlotte Soccer Academy, and Esports Property Partners.

    City Council member Tariq Bokhari is a minority investor in the esports hub. City Attorney Patrick Baker has said that doesn’t present a conflict, in part because the esports hub would be renting space from the development and not have a direct financial relationship with the city. Bokhari has also said he would not vote to pick a project. The developers are asking for $30 million from the city.

  • The Eastland Yards Indoor Sports Complex would have a 115,000-square-foot indoor facility that could be configured for 10 basketball courts or 20 volleyball courts or 40 pickleball courts. It could also host gymnastics and cheer competitions. Synergy Sports, Viking Companies, RADD Sports, and EDGE Sports Group are backing this plan. They’re asking for $28 million in city funds.

The city eliminated three other proposals, including a publicly funded and owned amateur sports complex, a tennis-focused sports complex and a development that would have included a Target.

Jordan Lopez, another CharlotteEAST member who lives in the Verndale neighborhood, says he also supports amateur sports. He is strongly opposed to a concert venue.

“There have been several opportunities for public engagement and the city has collected a lot of feedback from the community,” he said. “And at no point did the community ever express the desire for a concert venue or an entertainment venue. “

Jordan Lopez is worried about the traffic a concert venue would bring.
Steve Harrison
Jordan Lopez is worried about the traffic a concert venue would bring.

He said there is support for a small-scale venue for local musicians to perform. But he said surrounding neighborhoods are worried about a venue that would draw up to 5,000 people.

“I can’t imagine they are too pleased about the thought of having a concert venue in their backyard, the increased traffic that would bring to the area,” he said.

Asciutto said CharlotteEAST had previously stayed neutral in deciding what should be built. But he says he was moved to act, in part because he’s worried city staff are favoring the esports, soccer and concert venue plan.

Earlier this month, the city’s economic development team presented a subjective list of criteria. The concert/esports proposal — known as QC East — was scored the highest by the team.

“There’s no doubt this QC East proposal will be a destination at Eastland,” he said. “The issue is it would not be a destination for east Charlotte. It would be a destination for folks all over the region.”

The city launched two weeks ago a new community survey about the final two Eastland proposals.

City Council member Marjorie Molina, who represents east Charlotte, said she wants to make sure all community members are heard — not just neighborhood activists.

“The people who are working every day, the people who are busy — I think my greatest worry most of the time is that we never hear from them,” Molina said. “I used to be one of those people working. I still was engaged in the community but I didn’t have 100% of my time focused on one particular thing, so we tend to isolate their voices.”

But Asciutto said the city has failed to reach out effectively. East Charlotte is considered the most diverse part of the city. Many neighborhoods there are between one-third to just over one-half Latino, but the Eastland survey was only in English for about two weeks.

Two days after WFAE asked Molina about the survey only being in English, the city added a Spanish version.

Molina said it was a mistake to not have the survey in Spanish.

“You know, I didn’t make the survey,” she said. “I had no hand in the survey.”

Asciutto said another problem is that the survey never asks people whether they actually prefer the concert/esports/soccer proposal — or the one that focuses on indoor sports. Instead, it asks whether community members prefer economic development or community access.

Lopez said that’s a false choice.

“It actually makes you choose: Does the community still prefer economic development or community engagement?” Lopez said. “The placemaker in me hates that because community engagement can absolutely be an economic development driver. Starting off with that question already gave me concerns how the survey results would be used.”

City Council member Malcolm Graham, who chairs the economic development committee, agreed it was a mistake to only have the survey in English.

But he says the city did the right thing in not asking people which proposal they preferred because, he said, “We don’t want it to be a popularity contest.”

City Council is expected to vote on the two proposals later this summer.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.