Pending Charlotte City Council approval, the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services department hopes by August to issue a request for proposals from multidisciplinary consulting teams to develop engineering guidelines that will serve as the foundation for the redevelopment of the former Eastland Mall. The cost of the consulting services would likely be between $200,000 and $300,000.
The proposal and a timeline were laid out Monday for the council at its pre-meeting dinner by Pat Mumford, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services department.
“We feel very strongly this is a logical approach to developing this property,” he said. “If we don’t do this, however, we will just continue to plod along with that site the way it is. It just won’t happen by itself.”
Mumford was not asking the council to approve the expenditures, but to give an indication of whether the city wants to continue moving in that direction. He said the consulting team would provide a “framework for the site,” including infrastructure needs, design and zoning guidelines, and a feasibility analysis based on current market conditions.
“This framework will allow us to respond to developer inquiries” regarding potential development, he said.
Several council members said they were concerned about piling expense upon expense in an effort to redevelop the remaining 69 acres. The city agreed in April to sell 11.4 acres to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a magnet school.
The city bought the 80-acre site in 2012 for $13.2 million with plans to have a single developer propose a large, multi-use project, and demolished the mall in 2013. In late 2014, the city, CMS and Mecklenburg County spent $49,900 on a study to determine the feasibility of having the property developed in a more piecemeal fashion after efforts to engage a single developer failed.
“Where I struggle with this is that when we bought the site… I thought that it would be easier,” said Councilman Kenny Smith. “Now I’m saying I’m struggling with the continuous spending out there.”
Councilman Ed Driggs said he wants to know more about how far forward the proposed consultant’s report would get the city.
“I want to know a lot more about where we would be after we spend that money,” he said. “Based on what I’ve heard, I’m kind of worried about making that investment in consultants. Where would we be at the end of that outlay? The risk is that we spend the money and we’re still sitting here.
“I’m not there yet based on this description,” he said. “I could get there.”
Mumford said the “next step is to answer those questions.”
Last year, the city came up with a vision for what it wanted to see on the land, including retail, restaurants, residences, public space, and athletic fields.
In March, the Latin American Economic Development Corp. commissioned the Chilean firm Elemental, founded by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alejandro Aravena, to visit Charlotte and assess the site and present concepts. In April, he proposed a vision for a culturally diverse community of small businesses, cultural activities, entertainment, housing and quality of life amenities, such as parks and athletic fields, building on the site’s existing features and the nearby community’s increasingly diverse population.
Mumford said the components of the two visions lined up fairly closely.
“I would suggest to you that the final redevelopment of the Eastland Mall site… will probably not look like either of these,” Mumford said “Each step elicits a different step and response. … We want to move from vision to taking action.”
He proposed that a request for proposals be issued in August; the selection of a team in October; and the completion of an implementation plan in June 2017, with work on the final plan beginning in July 2017.
And, he added, “We hope that there’s some way that Alejandro can stay engaged in this process, maybe as a design consultant. There’s an opportunity here to have a much more robust public engagement process.”
Councilman John Autry, in whose district the land is located, said “a positive impact is greatly needed.”
“We need this property and this part of the city to be more productive and to contribute more to the city’s revenue stream than what we’ve got today,” he said.