If you haven't visited Plaza Fiesta
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
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
The nonprofit forum, Civic by Design, hosted Plaza Fiesta architects David Schroeder and Sean Slater from
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
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
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