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.
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.)