Public money headed to Eastland Mall, a future hub for Charlotte FC and Tepper Sports

·6 min read

County leaders will commit just over $7 million for public improvements at the former Eastland Mall redevelopment project, a vibrant cultural hub anchored by the Charlotte FC Elite Academy headquarters in east Charlotte.

Mecklenburg County commissioners on Wednesday adopted a resolution approving the infrastructure support, with the city expected to contribute about $4 million in the interlocal agreement. Charlotte is separately committing more than $17 million in capital infrastructure investments at Eastland.

County Manager Dena Diorio still needs to execute a formal contract, which would clarify the public use of soccer fields and small business support programs at Eastland. Mecklenburg also wants the ability to maintain soccer fields, green space or park in perpetuity, if the city or Tepper Sports & Entertainment terminate their ground lease.

Commissioner Pat Cotham cast the only dissenting vote, due to the perpetuity language.

Last year, the city entered into contracts with developer Crosland Southeast and Tepper Sports & Entertainment to transform Eastland into a mixed-used development. It will include office space, retail shops and apartments with some affordable units.

During the commissioners’ discussion, they criticized the city’s handling of economic development negotiations. Elaine Powell, vice chair of the county commissioners, said Mecklenburg was “frozen out of the process” of working with Charlotte and Tepper Sports.

“Don’t just come and ask us to sign a check,” Powell said. “It is our job to consider balanced, smart growth.”

Charlotte bought the vacant 80-acre property, once a busting mall with a signature indoor ice-skating rink, in 2012. Commissioner Vilma Leake noted leaders have been talking about redeveloping the land “forever” as alternative plans, include a fake ski slope, faltered.

Commissioner Mark Jerrell, who represents the Eastland area, thanked east Charlotte residents for letting their voices be heard. He said the the Eastland project will revitalize the area.

“We also know this can’t be the end of the investment in east Charlotte,” Jerrell said.

Tepper Sports representatives did not speak during the commissioners’ meeting.

After the vote, Mark Hart, Tepper Sports vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement to the Observer: “We are continuing to work with the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Crosland as the transformational work at the Eastland Mall site progresses.

“Soccer is an important part of East Charlotte and we are excited to have a presence in the community,” Hart said.

Public-private partnership

Of the $11 million total infrastructure agreement from the city and county, $5.85 million is earmarked for a two-level parking deck with 300 spaces. And $5.15 million is for infrastructure improvements like new road networks, sidewalks and offsite traffic mitigation efforts.

County officials say the Eastland development will create more than 900 jobs during peak construction next year and in 2024.

The development’s first phase could be ready by the end of next year, assistant city manager and economic development director Tracy Dodson has said.

This is a continuation of public-private partnerships between Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Tepper Sports. Billionaire David Tepper, the NFL’s richest team owner, said in June he was counting on community support to partially fund a new uptown stadium for the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC, the new Major League Soccer team.

Dollar figures and most details remain unclear for the stadium, but Charlotte leaders say they’re interested in pursuing a long-term relationship with Tepper.

A continued collaboration, some Council members have told the Observer, could bring the entertainment district near the stadium — linking uptown and the Gateway District, a transit hub for Amtrak, bus, light rail and streetcar — to fruition.

The final “Rising Sun” signage at Eastland Mall being removed and prepared for transport to a storage facility in Concord as it awaits future installation as public art.
The final “Rising Sun” signage at Eastland Mall being removed and prepared for transport to a storage facility in Concord as it awaits future installation as public art.

Eastland site plan

When Charlotte landed the MLS expansion team, Eastland was touted as the future team’s headquarters.

But in a twist caused by the coronavirus pandemic, officials scrapped that part of the deal, instead locating the Charlotte FC Elite Academy headquarters at Eastland.

City Council members say the Eastland Mall overhaul will rejuvenate economic development on Charlotte’s east side. Yet community advocates are wary about gentrification along the Central Avenue and Albemarle Road corridor, home to diverse immigrant and refugee communities.

The average household income around Eastland is about $31,000, nearly half of Mecklenburg’s overall average, census data show. Black and Hispanic residents account for nearly two-thirds of the population.

The Elite Academy complex will occupy 22 acres at Eastland, according to the latest development proposal. Tepper Sports plans to have two large fields for the academy, in addition to a large field for public use.

Also slated for public use are four medium and six small fields, which Tepper Sports envisions for youth and recreation leagues.

Charlotte FC and Tepper Sports say the soccer fields will feature programming about 100 days each year, meaning the public can access the fields most of the time during non-programmed days.

Tepper Sports will occupy about 11% of open space at Eastland.

Other open space amenities will encompass a nearly 3-acre park along Central Avenue, smaller pocket parks, and a greenway and cycle track. According to the development proposal, there will also be 240,000 square feet of office space and 90,000 square feet of retail space at the Eastland site.

Of the 485 residential units outlined in the plan, there are 250 apartments serving households earning between 80% to 100% of the area median income, as well as 150 townhomes and single-family homes at full market pricing.

Another 85 units are designated as affordable housing units for seniors.

Bank of America Stadium

Tepper Sports and the city have already split the cost of $50 million for renovations at Bank of America Stadium, the longtime home of the Panthers in uptown Charlotte, to upgrade it with soccer-specific enhancements for Charlotte FC’s first team in the immediate future.

Tepper Sports covered slightly more than half of the $50 million, with the rest coming from City Council-approved funding for the improvements. Those include adding a center tunnel for soccer, a new home locker room and significant changes to the Lowe’s East Gate entrance.

TSE president Tom Glick said the organization is investing in Bank of America Stadium when asked last month about a new stadium.

“I think what’s important to note is we have a great soccer stadium right here,” he said. “It’s always been great for soccer ... And that’s the moment that we’re in and we’re excited to fill (Bank of America Stadium) up when we kick off.”

Charlotte FC is set to begin play in the venue in 2022.

Alex Andrejev contributed to this story.

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