Plan To Save Charlotte's Excelsior Club Involves Public Money, Possible Hotel

Dec 17, 2019

Charlotte City Council last night unanimously approved a $50,000 grant as part of a project for preserving and redeveloping the historic Excelsior Club in west Charlotte — but city staff said the state of the building itself has substantially deteriorated.

The grant, in the form of a loan to California-based Kenwood Investments, would go toward preserving the facade of the building on Beatties Ford Road. Kenwood decided to buy the property last month and plans to close on the deal Dec. 31.

Mecklenburg County commissioners were scheduled to vote on contributing another $50,000 to the project Tuesday night.

The Excelsior Club was long a center of social and civil life in Charlotte’s African American community after opening in 1944. The future of the building has been uncertain after the club closed in 2016 and fell into disrepair.

Kenwood wants to turn the property into an entertainment complex that could include a music venue, restaurant, bar and hotel.

But Ron Kimble with the city manager's office warned council members that preservation of the building itself might be difficult because it's "in very, very bad shape."

"It is falling in," Kimble said. "It has been completely gutted from the inside. There is nothing left inside of any historic importance at this point in time… If you can save the facility and save the building, that's one part of history, but also saving part of history is what you can put back in its place if it has to go, how you can replicate an how you can remember the history and do it in a fashion that will be reverential to the development that was originally there in 1944."

Still, Kimble said the Historic Landmarks Commission will work with the developer to figure out if there are any "save possibilities."

The total loan package is actually $250,000 – with the city, county and the Knight Foundation pitching in $50,000 apiece and the Foundation for the Carolinas contributing $100,000. Kimble told council members Tuesday night that if the developer didn't complete the project by Dec. 31, 2024, the money would be refunded.

Newly elected District 2 council member Malcom Graham said the project would have a "humongous" impact on the corridor.

"This is a good day for the city of Charlotte because this is all of our history," Graham said to claps, "not just restricted to a specific district. From a business perspective, it's a small investment."

Nichelle Bonaparte was one of several residents who spoke up in support of the project.

"The identification and preservation of historic districts and African American communities enhances community pride and a sense of identity," Bonaparte said. "The Excelsior Club is a landmark that embodies the history of African Americans living in Charlotte-Mecklenburg past and present and for future generations to contribute to life, culture, politics, the economy and education."

Mayor Vi Lyles said the project would still require rezoning – meaning that City Council will still need to approve any final plan from the developer. She said there would be chances for community input before that happens.