Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chamber: Don't blame us for Overstreet

Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan, on the eve of the Chamber's annual intercity trip (this year to – ta da! – Charlotte) called to report that an oft-repeated story that uptown's overstreet walkways emerged from a Chamber inter-visit to Minneapolis is, well, wrong.

Morgan said he, too, had repeated that story. But (because of a question from yours truly seeking other examples of Chamber-trip-inspired developments) he hauled out the entire list of Chamber intercity visits dating to 1956. The only Minneapolis trip was in 1993, two decades after the first overstreet walkway went up.

Photo: Skywalk under construction in 2001 photo

Why "blame" in that headline I wrote? (It's my word, not the Chamber's.) I'm among many who criticize the walkways for hurting the possiblities for uptown retail. They make it hard to find the stores, unless you know they're in there. And they make the street-level experience blander, because you can't window-shop because the stores are hidden. I'll be fair, now, and note that in cold, rainy weather they're very popular. Yes, I use them too, upon occasion, typically the "ice storm" occasion.

I dug into our electronic archives which date to 1985 and found a painful number of references – some written by me, others by esteemed Observer reporters such as Doug Smith, Jeff Elder and M.S. Van Hecke – to this mythological, walkway-inspiring Chamber trip to Minneapolis.

Morgan speculated that the walkways were inspired by Minneapolis, but not on an official Chamber inter-city visit.

He may well be right. Here's the earliest mention of them I found. (No, I didn't take time to visit our newsprint clips, fun though such visits can be.) This was written in a 1986 news article by Ted Mellnik who, then as well as now, is noted in our newsroom for his reportorial precision: "The Overstreet Mall was proposed in a 1971 center-city development plan by Vincent Ponte, who said it would create 'a city within a city.' Development was spurred in the mid-1970s when a group of Charlotte business and civic leaders visited Minneapolis, which has a walkway system."

Update: 6:45 p.m.: Got an e-mail from Carl Johnson who offers this info: "Mary, my recollection is the Gibson L. Smith, real estate man and civic leader (on council, I think, and ran for mayor but lost) deserves a lot of credit as a promoter (I say that in the neutral sense) for the overstreet walkways. Carl Johnson"

(I'll be going on as much of this week's Chamber "visit" as I can manage away from the job. So blog postings may be sparse. I'll try to Tweet @marynewsom or @nakedcityblog. The Chamber is asking all Twitter-users to use this hashtag: #icv09.)

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

And a lot of us STILL don't have a problem with them Mary.

Anonymous said...

Interesting bit on the overstreets. I'm in Calgary now, where they are called Plus 15s. The entire city downtown is connected by them, which actually prompted an indy movie about people who live in the city center and don't go outdoors for months. Calgary started its system in the early 1960s and has built it steadily since then. No new building is approved downtown without a link to the Plus-15 networks. Perhaps the chamber was inspired during a trip to the Calgary Stampede?

Anonymous said...

Never really "advertised" I myself recall visiting several shops when staying at what was then "The Radisson" hotel while visiting the old Charlotte Civic Center events. These were typically closed after 6PM and rarely ever opened on Sat or Sun mornings.

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The covered walkways are great. The shopping choices are terrible. It's nice to see some potential outdoor shopping options at the Epicenter. While there might not be great shopping on the trek to the Epicenter; the covered walkways are an asset to people walking to the Epicenter in heels or during nasty weather from the BB&T Garage or Three Wachovia Garage on College Street.

Anonymous said...

If you work downtown you realize how valuable the overstreet's are. How dare you blame them for lack of retail. Retail will show up when people begin moving into downtown. Blame urban sprawl, NOT the overstreets.

Anonymous said...

Blaming a walkway for lack of retail options is like blaming an orange for the lack of a decent QB.

Anonymous said...

Mary, please put up some of your money for things that you like. Quit asking others or blaming others for things you do not like.

Anonymous said...

TAXATION IS THEFT!!!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, what do you like about Charlotte? You have the opportunity to highlight some of the more appropriate and well thought out features of our City. While you do that from time to time, it is always tempered with a disdain for everything else and decisions made by others.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever had the opportunity to visit downtown Minneapolis? There is a Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Saks, Banana. Republic, Brooks Brothers, Gap, Target, Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, Talbots, Cole Haan, Ann Taylor, etc... The country's largest mall is about 10 miles from downtown and oh yeah, downtown Minneapolis has 8 miles worth of skyways. It's not the skyways / walkways!!

sip said...

if you dont like it, then leave.

Louie said...

While I'm not a big fan of the Overstreet myself, I do have to agree with the others who say we can no longer blame it for our lack of retail downtown. I think the area inside the I-277 loop is around 2 square miles... and roughly 20,000 people live there now on top of the 75,000 people who work there during the week. This doesn't even count the number of visitors (anyone noticed there are even tourists clutching maps walking down Tryon during the week now?).

My point being, there are more than plenty people downtown to add retail, it's just that nobody has been brave enough to really try it yet. Look at the little bone we've been thrown with the Epicentre... people are just nuts over it! I think the market is ripe for an infusion of REAL retail. Just look how the Metropolitan development has taken off just across the 277 loop. Shops downtown will drawn in more than people who live inside the 277 loop. I just don't get argument from leaders who say "oh, we'll put in retail once X number of people live downtown." I live in Plaza Midwood, and I'd GLADLY shop downtown versus trekking over to Southpark, Northlake, Concord Mills, or Carolina Place. I think that's the problem... people aren't looking at the bigger picture of influx of residents and money to the central part of the city in general, not just uptown!

Jeff said...

At the rate stores are closing in Charlotte's Overstreet Mall it won't even qualify as a mall for much longer...

Anonymous said...

IMPEACH BEV PERDUE.

joshua said...

This is interesting. It seems confusion is the order of the day.

This is Joshua from Israeli Uncensored News