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Foundation for the Carolinas requests funding for Carolina Theatre restoration

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The Foundation for the Carolinas is talking to a developer regarding plans for a hotel that would be built on top of the Carolina Theatre in uptown. The theater has been closed since 1978, and the foundation plans to spend more than $31 million to restore it.

CHARLOTTE – The Foundation for the Carolinas has asked the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to contribute $3.7 toward the restoration of the Carolina Theatre as part of a larger plan to revitalize the North Tryon Street corridor.

Michael Marsicano, CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, and Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, presented plans for the revitalization to county commissioners Tuesday night.

In addition to the theater restoration, Marsicano said the foundation was in talks with a developer regarding plans for a $60 million boutique hotel that would be built on top of the theater. Marsicano said the Foundation for the Carolinas has already received a proposal from a hotel developer, and that the proposal was currently under review.

Restoring the theater to its 1929 condition will cost $31.3 million, and the Foundation for the Carolinas has secured $26.8 million. The city contributed to the project by giving the property, which is valued at $3.7 million, to the foundation. The theater closed in 1978 and has been vacant since.

Marsicano said after the meeting that the restoration process could start as early as the first quarter of next year and would be completed in 2018.

“I will admit, it takes some vision to imagine this ugly duckling ever becoming a swan again,” Marsicano told the commissioners Tuesday.

Smith gave the board an update on the North Tryon Vision and Implementation Plan, which he said would include 60 acres in Fourth Ward, starting at the theater and running northeast toward Interstate 277. He said the primary focus of the revitalization efforts would be the area between the theater and the Hal Marshall Center, which he referred to as the “bookends” of the project.

“It’s not meeting its potential; there is more that North Tryon can be,” Smith said.

A group of more than 20 investors, led by Charlotte Center City Partners, the Foundation for the Carolinas and the city, has hired planning and design company MIG Inc. to study the 60 acres and create a development strategy for the area. The strategy is expected to be completed in the fall.

Smith said MIG’s suggestions for the corridor include making the North Tryon Street corridor more pedestrian friendly through a system of connected walkways. He said MIG had proposed extending 10th Street southeast through where the LYNX Blue Line extension will run to create a walkable alley to Brevard Street, for example.

The board did not make a decision on helping finance the restoration of the theatre, but several commissioners voiced support for the project.

Commissioner Chairman Trevor Fuller said it makes sense for the county to jump onboard with the revitalization efforts, especially considering the fact the county owns the Hal Marshall Center, which he said was “prime property.”

“To have the opportunity to contribute to this revolutionary change to our central core of our community is really exciting to me,” Fuller said.

The Hal Marshall Center is occupied by the county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency, which plans to move out of the building. County Manager Dena Diorio said the agency should be out of the building in about a year, and that the $3.7 million request for the restoration of the theater could come from the sale of the Hal Marshall property.

Commissioner Bill James questioned whether spending $3.7 million on the theater should take priority over other budget demands.

In response, Commissioner George Dunlap said the board should consider the potential tax revenue created by future development along the North Tryon Street corridor.

“I think what we generate from the revenue of these other things that will be located over there will more than pay for the requested investment,” he said.

Marsicano said the theater also would be used for civic purposes, such as a gathering space for community and government meetings.

Commissioner Jim Puckett said the theater simply could not be replaced, and that its restoration would be well worth the investment.

“Every once in a while something comes along that is just worthy of saving, and the Carolina Theatre is one of those things that you can’t duplicate,” he said. “You certainly can’t replicate it for $3.7 million.”

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