Eastland Development Could Push Out Skatepark And Hispanic Flea Market

Feb 15, 2020

Almost eight years after Charlotte's Eastland Mall was torn down, a massive, new development has finally been planned for the site -- one that will surely bring new life to the area. However, it may also displace two groups that currently occupy the space: one, a homegrown skatepark and the other, a Hispanic flea market.

Both groups are wondering if there's any way to get included in the new development, and if not, when and how they might be pushed out.

The skatepark, which is on the western part of the property, is small, but lively. About a half dozen skaters meet there just about every afternoon to practice tricks or just hang out.

Much of the park was built by a lifelong Charlottean named Stephen, who did not want to give his last name because the skatepark is a "DIY" -- meaning it's not officially sanctioned by the city. He said he and some friends started building it back in 2015.

"We had two other original DIYs, but they got knocked down," he said. "So we just needed a place to skate."

They started with a few ramps, then poured in concrete, from which they sculpted larger ramps and jumps. They even incorporated some metal salvaged from the old Tremont Music Hall after it was demolished.

Stephen said the spot was never meant to last forever -- actually, he's suprised it's lasted this long -- but he's still going to be sad to see it razed, which he's sure will happen.

"If there was a way to keep it, that would be amazing, because so many kids skate here every day, all day," he said.

But he's not optimistic.

"I mean, I know we're on borrowed time. I just hope that if the city does something, just give us a heads up," he said, "There's so much stuff out here that's salvageable, that we could use somewhere else."

Meanwhile on the other side of the property, about 100 vendors and their employees set up every Saturday and Sunday to hawk clothes, toys, electronics, and food. There's the sound of Spanish-language music and a man hacking open fresh coconuts with a machete.

Gustavo Martinez and his grandson, Brandon Rico, have been selling fruits and vegetables at the Open Air Flea Market on the Eastland Mall site for about five years.
Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE

Gustavo Martinez, who moved to Charlotte from Mexico, has been selling fruits and vegetables with his grandsons here for the past five years. Through his grandson, Brandon Rico, he said he's heard about the new development, and he's worried.

"There's about 200 businesses here selling stuff," Rico said. "And if they take it away from us, then 200 people will be living with nothing ... this is our business here."

This is Martinez's only job, he says, and while he can earn some money during the week selling to people at their apartments, many other vendors are entirely reliant on the market for income. People like Inkari Cuschcagua and her mother and aunt, who sell clothes and gifts made by their relatives in Ecuador.

"We don't really have other sources of income," she said, "Sometimes we go to Native American festivals, powwows, in other states Saturdays and Sundays. We don't really have another source of income Monday through Friday."

If the market does get pushed out, they don't know how they would get money to buy food or pay rent.

Those concerns are echoed by one of the market's two owners, Theodore Williams.

"I pretty much put myself homeless building this flea market," he said. "And I can have you talk to many people in here that have been here and taking care of their family, putting their children through college and everything else."

He said he's been in conversations with the city, from which he's been leasing the space since the market started in August 2015. He said he's been pushing hard to get the market included in the new development, and he's more optimistic than the skateboarders.

"I feel pretty confident. I am looking at the possibility for other things, just in case," he said, "but I would say I'm about 90% certain that the city knows the benefit to our area, what we're doing here."

Nothing has been set in stone, but Williams said he has met with city officials, and he thinks he has a chance. Mayor Vi Lyles also told WFAE this week that MLS team owner David Tepper has visited the flea market and is interested in keeping it, though spokespeople for Tepper and the city did not respond to requests for comment.

In the meantime, it's unclear how much longer the skateboarders and flea market have until construction on the property starts. Major League Soccer officials say they want the team to start playing as early as 2021, though that doesn't mean the headquarters will be finished by then.

At this stage, developers have only just begun the process of mapping out their plans with the city.

Want to read all of WFAE’s best news each day? Sign up for our daily newsletter, The Frequency, to have our top stories delivered straight to your inbox.