Thursday, September 11, 2008

New future for Eastland Mall?

If you haven't visited Plaza Fiesta Carolinas, you should. You might be glimpsing an early version of the future for the Eastland Mall site.

Eastland is a fading ’70s-era regional shopping mall, in a part of Charlotte that’s seen huge demographic changes in the past 30 years, with an influx of immigrants and more racially integrated neighborhoods. The mall’s owner, Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust, has had it on the market since 2005. It said in July it would no longer subsidize it. Store hours have been reduced; the non-anchor stores aren’t even open Mondays or at night. And the city of Charlotte now holds an option to buy two of the five parcels at the 70-acre property.

Plaza Fiesta is a newly opened, Latino-themed enclosed mall in a re-used building next to Carowinds, just off I-77 on the N.C.-S.C. line. It's where the old Carolina Pottery and outlet mall used to be. New owners from Atlanta, home to the first Plaza Fiesta, bought it and upfitted the interior to resemble a Latin American village.

The nonprofit forum, Civic by Design, hosted Plaza Fiesta architects David Schroeder and Sean Slater from Norcross, Ga., on Tuesday night. They talked about modeling the interior after real towns in Mexico, even to the extent of replicating owner Arturo Adonay's (corrected from earlier misspelling) grandmother's house in Mexico.

It’s laid out with streets and “alleys.” There’s a central plaza, a fountain and a lot of kid- and family-friendly spaces, such as a huge playground and a video arcade. It’s becoming a popular draw, even for Anglo families, the architects said. Yes, they’re going to be giving a positive spin, but I visited it with friends one recent Sunday afternoon and saw lots of people eating, strolling shopping.

But I was most interested in another aspect: its role as incubator for small, locally owned (in this case mostly but not exclusively Latino-owned) businesses. Much of the interior is filled with booths, arranged in trade-show layout, which play something of the role kiosks do at conventional malls – except those kiosks are likely to be run by national chains, not mom and pop businesses. In Charlotte, Plaza Fiesta officials visited Latino businesses along South Boulevard and recruited some of them to open spots at Plaza Fiesta.

Is it faux? Of course. Shopping malls are all replicas of true shopping streets in towns and cities. Is it in the wrong place, planning-wise? Sure. I asked Slater and Schroeder about those concerns, and they pretty much said, yep, it would be better in a more central spot, next to transit, and it would be better if it were in a real neighborhood with real streets and real houses instead of fake ones. “It is what it is,” Slater said.

But, according to them, it’s working as a way to give small entrepreneurs a toe-hold, it’s attracting crowds with lots of planned events, and it’s functioning as well as anywhere else in Charlotte as a gathering spot for the geographically dispersed Latino community. It’s safe, it’s pleasant, and – assuming they’re telling the truth – making money.

Here’s the Eastland hook: In the audience was Tom Warshauer, a city economic development manager whose assignments include Eastland Mall (also Independence Boulevard, and North Tryon Street). He was intrigued by the concept of a marketplace of small businesses arranged around a plaza, acting as a community gathering area. Maybe he was doing just a little daydreaming – don’t we all? – but he talked of the possibility of creating a Plaza Fiesta-type incubator space in a real neighborhood, in a more central and transit-served location – Eastland.

Just remember, you read it here first.


Anonymous said...

Is ICE going to hace a booth?

Anonymous said...

I live in the Windsor Park neighborhood near Eastland Mall. I commute to my Uptown job everyday from the Eastland Transit Center on the 40x.

The great thing about this area is that it is realy affordable. The homes are quality-built. Since they're not huge, they're less expensive to heat and cool. My utilities (gas and electric) for July were just $60. In my car I can get to just about any point in central Charlotte in 15 mins - it's even a quick drive to my yoga class at SouthPark in rush hour. With established trees and small yards, yard work doesn't take up my whole weekend.

The whole Eastland area gets painted with broad strokes when people talk about crime and ecnomiically disadvantaged areas. However, there are quiet, very nice neighborhoods just off Central and Eastway that really are hidden gems. I challenge anyone who makes a comment about this area to actually drive through Sheffield, Windsor Park, Darby Acres, or Country Club Heights before they make generalizations about the communities in east Charlotte. Moreover a comparision of the crime statistics is revealing. There are hot spots in east Charlotte but the interior neighborhoods are safe.

Regarding Eastland's redevelopment, area residents do not want any more rental development. We support a more balanced mix of homeowners to renters. Because this area already has too much rental property, no additional rental properties are needed. The City's plan via ULI is sound and we generally support the redevelopment plan as outlined in that proposal. The east side needs a focus - a developed park and open space. We need a Freedom Park. A place for celebrations and community gatherings...a place for people to go to on Sunday afternoon and stroll. We also need community resources - like police and fire stations and athletic fields.

We would like to see the redevelopment be human in scale and walk-able...not car-based.

It's important for the East side that the City not cave in to developers on this project and hold fast to what is good for the community rather than what will pad a developer's pocket.

Miriam G. Luckadoo said...

REALLY sick of hearing about Eastland Mall, the future of Eastland Mall, the refurbishing of Eastland Mall.

The entire structure needs to be razed and done away with and no public money should be involved in any sort of plan, period.

I don't know of any other way to say this, but the City let minorities and illegal immigrants take sole possesion of East Charlotte, they did and in the process they've rotted away what used to be a nice part of town from the inside out. Let them sort it out and deal with the mess they made themselves.

Mary Newsom said...

Responding to the previous comment from Ms. Luckadoo:
While I agree that East Charlotte is a good example of what happens when the city and county governments simply apply laissez faire policies to development, I don't think anyone should equate "minorities" and illegal immigrants with "rotting from the inside out" nor should anyone assume that all immigrants in East Charlotte (or anywhere) are undocumented.

CeeCee Hidalgo said...

I don't think anyone should equate "minorities" and illegal immigrants with "rotting from the inside out"

While she makes broad generalities, there is a ring of truth to Miriam's unsavory comments.

I mean, if that's NOT the case, Mary then please tell the class who's is chiefly responsible for the disentigration of East Charlotte. Who's committing the crime, selling illegal drugs, organizing deadly gangs, spray-painting graffiti, vandalizing East Charlotte? Minorities, that's who. The only way we can combat these issues effectively and undertand them is to speak plainly and truthfully - and the truth is minorities and illegal immigrants created the cesspool that is now East Charlotte, they did. Nothing you or anyone can say changes that - it's a fact.

Of course, political correctness prevents various people and entities from speaking plainly - but the fact is what Miriam is saying is basically true. If you need evidence just look to Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and countless other metropolitan areas affected by this very same phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Mary, the Fiesta idea was actually kicked around in comments at MeckDeck back on March 27th.


Anonymous said...

The talk of who is responsible for what doesn't move the conversation forward. I think the City is doing a good job of assessing the situation and making a well researched plan. Now they need the backbone to implement.

My boss bought her house near Freedom Park 15 years ago for $115K - it's now valued on Zillow for over $550K! Who knew that would happen?! Neighborhoods will change as demographics put pressure on center city land. - The City is responsible that the infrastructure is there to facilitate positive development and generate positive tax value (tax revenue vs $ spent in social services in general).

Anonymous said...

Seriously- Central Avenue and Albemarle Road has been a great incubator for latino small businesses. We don't need a whole mall when we have 600 strip malls with low rent and easy access. It's not like Pineville with no low rent retail space.....

Some civic services like a library, park, transit center and basic retail like a grocery, target etc. would be more useful.

Anonymous said...

Captain Cupcake says:
Lemme get this straight. ... The uptown "planning" professionals who
* insist Independence Boulevard deserves buses, not light rail
* approved too much retail and commercial in East Charlotte over the decades
* think an overabundance of rental properties there is OK because it's "higher density" ...
now think it's a GREAT idea to also pigeonhole East Charlotte is prime for the Dinky Business Startup Plaza!
Having zoned and rezoned the East Side into a total mess, they somehow feel qualified to engage in more social engineering.
They instead need to raze Eastland and sell it to someone responsible.
If they and the city-ruling developers want to poke around in in the social fabric, they should first, um, "share" what they've done in East Charlotte with all. Myers Park, ready for your Section 8 rental complexes? Ballantyne, isn't it your turn for a Payday Advance boutique and tattoo-parlor strip mall?

Anonymous said...

How about a baseball stadium?

Sloan from SouthPark and Uptown said...

Miriam and CeeCee,

You need to take a bridge class at the Tyvola Road Senior Center.

I did. It is taught by a woman from a minority group. This WASP figured she knew all the answers and would blow away the competition - which incidentally is mostly minority group female.

Instead what I learned is that there are a heck of a lot of minority folks who are a heck of a lot smarter than I at a complicated game like bridge. And did I mention they can speak two languages. How many can you? (I speak Latin and English. A lot of good the former does.)

Since the group I play with are mainly from nearby SouthPark neighborhoods, I kind of doubt they have been contributing to the demise of that area, and I doubt their compatriots have been causing problems in East Charlotte. But maybe you can tell us how they are doing that. Or maybe it’s just that you want to live in a WASP nest.

To Anon at 04:00 pm:

Maybe you were jesting, but I agree. Why does every amenity in this damn town have to be uptown? Tear down Eastland and put up a minor league baseball stadium. At least the Latinos have an appreciation for the game. The heck with the uptown and Dilworth yuppies. There would be sell-outs every game at a stadium in the Eastland area if the Knights stick to their current ticket pricing.

umpire state said...

Looks like a good place for a baseball stadium, and no shady land dealings needed. But it won't benefit Center City Partners, so no dice.

Anonymous said...

Baseball would be a great solution, especially when they get the trolley going. It would probably be neat if they could do a stadium that could double for soccer somehow, given the large latino population.

But no- the cheapest and easiest is some Fiesta Plaza flea market- there is already one at Hannafords. So we will get more of that junk. Because a glorified flea market is what we need. Perhaps an outparcel could become a CheckintoCash. Oh yes, and some rental apartments, preferably low income. And we will get to pay the price of premium land in uptown or Dilworth for a baseball stadium where tickets and parking will make sure no one actually goes to games. Especially no minorities. So it needs to be a bit far from the rail line.

Anonymous said...

You can't accuse wealthy uptown execs AND poor immigrants of BOTH being the primary agent of East Charlotte's downturn. They're pretty much mutually exclusive of each other, so you have to pick one -- otherwise you're just scatter-shotting the blame to everyone you dislike, with no rhyme or reason.

Either: Uptown planners screwed up the east side with haphazard zoning
Minorities screwed up the area by making it less safe and cohesive.

If you believe it was zoning that caused the problem, you can't turn around and blame the minorities for moving into those areas -- they don't get to pick which areas are zoned Section 8 nor do they have much discretion over which neighborhood they can afford to live in.

Secondly, I agree 100% with the comment that stimulating business around Eastland will do no good without improved infrastructure. The reason that the east side declined in the first place was that it lacks the basic necessities of an urban area -- strong libraries, safe parks, useful public transit, walkable streets, abundant police coverage, even a little bit of TLC from the street sweepers. Without those basics, property values will never improve in the troubled areas and there will be no sense in trying to stimulate either business or better-maintained residences there.

My 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I don't care whether Eastland Mall or any business along Central Avenue is Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever-- as long as they keep up their property, pick up trash, landscape and so on. What I do mind is when City Planners or independent architects, or anyone else, intentionally brand the area as appropriate for only "internatioonal businesses". There are plenty of those. Let's get a bagel store, a FedEx Kinkos, a coffee house -- the kind of businesses we see on East Boulevard. I am not opposed to Spanish- or other-than-English speaking neighbors with any skin color, but as a white English speaking person, I am tired of driving or bicycling across town to find shops that suit my tastes. The interior neighborhoods along Central Avenue are beautiful, and they are full of young professionals of every ethnicity who want solid homes in established neighborhoods. The 80-acre Evergreen Nature Preserve and adjacent Sheffield Park with its wetlands restoration will someday rival Freedom Park.
Just remember, "international" includes American.

Anonymous said...

Fiesta is a fine idea, as long as it is completely market driven. If the city has a role in management or design, experience indicates a 100% chance of failure.

Anonymous said...

Just in case you have NOT been to Plaza Fiesta near Carowinds,, you would be in for a surprise. It has absolutely the best children's playground I have ever seen- fully two stories, at least, of safe and fun climbing appartaus plus a wonderful slide that adults can go down with their kids. The food court has a good variety of all kinds of food, and the small "incubator" shops are full of interesting, funky merchandise. Plus there is a mainstream soccer store, Bass outlet and more. The place is always crowded with yes, mostly Latinos, but also a lot of Caucasians and other ethnic groups. There is a very modern and well-managed game room for all ages. There is often a special event there-- concerts, a circus just ended yesterday, and so on. I am just a frequent visitor there, and I urge everyone to check it out before making assumptions about a "latino Mall".

sexy said...