Main Library, Spirit Square redevelopment in uptown will now take longer than expected

·5 min read

Late last month, the popular Spirit Square and its theaters closed in a “bittersweet” moment ahead of a massive uptown redevelopment project. And next week, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Main Library branch will also close to the public.

But both destinations around N. Tryon and E. 7th streets will have to wait longer than initially thought before they return.

Building a new Main Library and renovating Spirit Square and its historic McGlohon Theater and the Duke Energy Theater — with a total budget of $154.5 million — isn’t expected to be complete until late 2025 now, Mecklenburg County spokeswoman Pam Escobar told the Observer in an email. That’s more than a year after previous estimates for the work.

Also coming to that area is the $600 million Seventh and Tryon project, which will bring offices, a hotel, apartments, restaurants, parking and retail along with a “lively community plaza” around 6th and 8th streets.

That development is not expected to be completed until mid-2025, according to Escobar.

The level of coordination between the projects was not known until both had progressed further in their design stage, Escobar said. That contributed to the delay for the library and Spirit Square work.

The Seventh and Tryon development is led by Virginia-based Metropolitan Partnership. Others involved in the project, including Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte and Bank of America, have spent the past year focusing on how to design the connection of plazas and “below-grade shared services” like loading docks for the new library and renovated theaters.

Work will also have to be done to line up major entrances and exits for the public, according to Escobar.

“Significant time has been spent trying to determine the best approach to designing mechanical systems for the theaters and whether those systems should be housed in the footprint of the new Main Library or stay within the theater footprint,” Escobar said.

The Main Library branch will close to the public Oct. 29.

Once the project is complete, the new library and the Spirit Square theaters will be housed in the same building.

A rendering of the McGlohon Theater and Duke Energy Theater next to the new main library branch uptown. The county approved a plan to save the two theaters but demolish much of the remaining Spirit Square, leaving arts groups in the lurch for now. The county says 60% of the meeting space will be replaced or kept in the new development.
A rendering of the McGlohon Theater and Duke Energy Theater next to the new main library branch uptown. The county approved a plan to save the two theaters but demolish much of the remaining Spirit Square, leaving arts groups in the lurch for now. The county says 60% of the meeting space will be replaced or kept in the new development.

A bittersweet farewell

The handwritten scribblings on a white wall at Spirit Square’s Knight Gallery were simple: some “thank yous” for the memories, “it’s been a great ride” and the image of a gravestone with “RIP Spirit Square” written beneath.

This was one of the final art exhibits at the gallery, a pandemic-friendly way for people to send off the uptown theater square in anticipation of the redevelopment project.

As of late September, Spirit Square’s historic McGlohon Theater and the black box Duke Energy Theater turned the lights out and drew the curtains on their last shows. Any remaining furniture or leftover items were given away to the community and the staff that worked there were told they had to be out by Oct. 1.

“It’s definitely one of those bittersweet moments because that (Spirit Square) facility is so beloved,” said Tom Gabbard, CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts, which manages Spirit Square and has voiced support for the redevelopment project. “I learned quickly when I arrived that people had the most heartfelt memories in attending a performance.”

Marvin Hinson, building services supervisor, assists the team moving out of Spirit Square in the final days the building was open. Two theaters in the building, McGlohon and Duke Energy, had their last shows in September before closing in anticipation of a massive redevelopment project.
Marvin Hinson, building services supervisor, assists the team moving out of Spirit Square in the final days the building was open. Two theaters in the building, McGlohon and Duke Energy, had their last shows in September before closing in anticipation of a massive redevelopment project.

Critical theater repairs

The theaters will undergo some much-needed repairs and renovations.

The McGlohon is over a century old. It was built in 1909 and functioned as the First Baptist Church sanctuary, and later was restored and reopened in 1980 as a theater.

A community meeting space and the Knight Gallery in Spirit Square will be razed.

Gabbard described the theater repairs as critical.

The heating and cooling systems badly needed an upgrade and the ceilings in parts of the theaters were getting so bad he and his staff feared they would have to install netting to protect people from potential falling parts. Renovations will also lead to more meeting and rehearsal space, Escobar said.

“At long last,” Gabbard said, “those two theaters are going to get the loving attention they deserve.”

Plans for the new library

The new, roughly $100 million, 115,000-square-foot Main Library branch is being designed by the New York architectural firm Snohetta along with the local Charlotte Clark Nexsen office.

It will be smaller than its current 157,000-square-foot building, but have a sleeker, modern structure that Snohetta has described as the “jewel” of the cultural neighborhood.

The library will have five levels complete with a cafe and immersive theater area along with two outdoor terraces and space for meetings.

The Main Branch Library in uptown Charlotte will close to the public Oct. 29, as part of a project to build a new library and renovate parts of Spirit Square.
The Main Branch Library in uptown Charlotte will close to the public Oct. 29, as part of a project to build a new library and renovate parts of Spirit Square.

The library, which has sat at 310 N. Tryon St. since 1903, was last renovated and expanded in 1988.

Demolition of existing buildings is expected to start early next year, Escobar said. Library construction and theater renovation will follow a year later.

The library has set up two locations for interim services while the main branch is closed: Founder’s Hall, 100 North Tryon St., Suite 290, and the education building at First United Presbyterian Church, 406 N. College St. Opening dates of those two locations have not yet been announced.

Revitalizing part of uptown

The Seventh and Tryon project has been in the works for the past few years. The county and Bank of America are the primary landowners in the deal.

The project is viewed as a step toward revitalizing a roughly two-square block section of uptown.

Last year, Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with selling public land as well as allocating $14.5 million for affordable housing units on property next to the development and elsewhere in the county.

Under the agreement approved in 2019, the county, Bank of America, the city and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library would sell 3.1 acres to Metropolitan Partnership for $21.5 million, the Observer previously reported.

This week, Mecklenburg County commissioners approved nearly $3.8 million for four affordable housing development projects underway by nonprofit developer DreamKey Partners. The money will come from the sale of the 1.5 uptown blocks designated for the Seventh and Tryon project.

Negotiations on the Seventh and Tryon project with Metropolitan are in the final stages and are expected to be complete by early 2022, according to Escobar.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting