Elements of Urbanism: Charlotte

September 4, 2012 39 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

What happens when a community Jacksonville's size decides to invest in itself as a method of stimulating economic development and job growth? Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to Uptown Charlotte to illustrate some of the results of investing in its urban core.

Tale of the Tape:

Charlotte Pop. 2011: 751,087 (City); 1,758,038 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1768)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Charlotte (134,042)

Metropolitan Area Growth Rate (2010-2011)

Charlotte: +2.13%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Charlotte: 1,249,442 (ranked 38 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Charlotte: 1,685.0 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Charlotte: +210,259
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Charlotte: Charlotte Convention Center (1995)  - 280,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Charlotte: Westin Charlotte (700 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Charlotte: Bank of America Corporate Center - 871 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies:

Charlotte: Bank of America (13), Nucor (138), Duke Energy (186), Goodrich (319), Sonic Automotive (330), SPX (446)
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Charlotte: A network of freeways (primarily I-277) completely circle Uptown, limiting connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Charlotte: EpiCentre Charlotte
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Charlotte: 78 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 78 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

About Uptown Charlotte

Charlotte center city (also known as Uptown or Downtown) is the central area of Charlotte, North Carolina. The headquarters for the Fortune 500 companies Bank of America and Duke Energy are located here, as well as the headquarters for East Coast operations for Wells Fargo.
Museums, sporting venues, shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars are heavily concentrated in the city center. More hotels are currently under construction including the 17-story Hotel Sierra, located on the same block as the Time Warner Cable Arena. New museums such as the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Mint Museum of Modern Art opened in 2010. Charlotte's center city (including South End) employs more than 70,000 people and more than 25-million visitors (including more than a half million conventioneers) come to Charlotte's center city to visit the 120 restaurants and 50 nightspots. The neighborhood has more than 13,000 residents.

Uptown Charlotte Map (Click on map to enlarge)

Tyron Street is the main thoroughfare through Uptown Charlotte.  It is home to the district's tallest structures.  This street was named in honor of William Tryon, governor of the Province of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771.

Completed in 2010, the Duke Energy Center is the largest building in Charlotte and second tallest, standing at 786 feet.  Originally, the building was supposed to become the new headquarters of Wachovia.  However, Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo after construction commenced.

In recent years, a coordinated effort has lead the to construction of several museums and cultural attractions being clustered together along Tyron Street in vicinity of the Charlotte Convention Center.

Known as "The Square," the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets is considered the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Both formerly native American trails, Tryon Street runs northeast-southwest, while Trade Street runs southeast-northwest.

This downtown bus stop also serves as a stop for the Charlotte Sprinter. The Sprinter is an interim transit solution while Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) continues to plan for a future streetcar line that will permanently replace airport bus service in 2034.  For the time being, the new Sprinter service provides a direct cost effective connection between Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Uptown Charlotte.

Charlotte Sprinter route between Charlotte-Douglass International Airport and Uptown Charlotte.

The Sprinter is essentially what the Jacksonville Transportation Authority will be implementing locally as Bus Rapid Transit.  However, it only cost CATS $4 million and $2.65 million of that happened to be spent on five new $530,000 hybrid buses that will get 50% better gas mileage than the regular fleet. Thus, Charlotte's bus rapid transit line was able to be implemented quickly and without federal assistance.

For more information on the Charlotte Sprinter, click here.

Anchoring the Third Ward or north end of Uptown, Gateway Village and Johnson & Wales University are located along Trade Street. Gateway Village is one of the state's largest mixed-use developments with 1,500,000 sq ft of office, shops, restaurants, and over 500 housing units.

Johnson & Wales University is expanding its campus in the Center City while the Mecklenburg County's Parks and Recreation Department has unveiled plans for an urban park in the district.

Plans are also underway to construct a $200 million transportation hub called the Gateway Station. The Gateway Station will house the Greyhound bus stop, the Amtrak station, the LYNX Purple Line and LYNX Silver Line, and a CATS bus terminal.

South of Tyron Street, Trade Street travels through what was known as the Second Ward.  This section of Uptown was an African-American neighborhood that fell to the mid 20th century policies of urban renewal.  Today, this area is the location of many public buildings, including the new Mecklenberg County Courthouse.

After being selected over Atlanta and Daytona Beach in 2006, the NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010.  In addition to the Hall of Fame, the $160 million complex also features a 20-story office building known as NASCAR Plaza.

The Time Warner Cable Arena opened in 2005 at the cost of $260 million.  Seating 19,077, it is the home court of the Charlotte Bobcats NBA franchise and located across the street from the Charlotte Transportation Center.  For comparison's sake, the 15,000-seat Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena opened in 2003, at the cost of $130 million.

Uptown Charlotte is the current terminus of the city's new 9.6-mile starter light rail line.  Operated by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), the light rail line commenced service on November 24, 2007.  Today it carries over 15,400 passenger trips per day.  In the five years since its opening, it has generated nearly 10,000,000 square feet of new commercial and residential development.

Plans are now underway to extend the line an additional 9.4-miles to Northeast Charlotte's University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Construction is anticipated to begin in 2013 with a 2017 completion date.

The Charlotte Transportation Center opened in 1995.  It serves the LYNX Blue Line, Charlotte Trolley and local bus routes.  Retail uses at the transporation center include a Bank of America branch, Postal Plus, Plaza Sundries Food Store, Char-Meck police substation, Bojangles', Burger King, Lil Orbits and a Subway.

EpiCentre opened in 2010, adjacent to the LYNX light rail line.  Tenants include Aloft Charlotte, Whisky River, BlackFinn American Saloon, SUITE, Libretto's Pizzeria, EpiCentre Theaters, Strike City and CVS Pharmacy.

In 2009, the developers of EpiCentre announced plans to construct a similar development at Jacksonville's Town Center. The Plaza at Town Center was supposed to feature 300,000 square feet of entertainment and retail on 50 acres just east of the St. Johns Town Center. While Whisky River, BlackFinn Saloon and Suite have opened, the grand plans announced three years ago have failed to materialize.

In December 2012, construction on the $37 million, 1.5-million starter streetcar line from the Time Warner Cable Arena to Presbyterian Hospital will begin. Future plans call for the development of a 10-mile streetcar corridor to generate economic development along the corridor. The streetcar alignment would serve customers currently using the Gold Rush Red Line and two of the highest ridership routes, Route 7 Beatties Ford Road and Route 9 Central Avenue.   The streetcar will connect the Charlotte Transportation Center (CTC) with two community  transit centers, Rosa Parks Place and Eastland Mall, and the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station.  The streetcar will also provide a transit connection to the LYNX Blue Line and higher learning centers, including Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales University, Central Piedmont Community College and the future UNC Charlotte Uptown Campus.

The Charlotte streetcar will be more eco-friendly than the buses it will replace. CATS suggests that a streetcar does not produce diesel emissions and that one streetcar vehicle is able to carry the same number of passengers as two buses.  Also, streetcars attract higher development densities adjacent to the alignment, which maximizes use of existing infrastructure, increases the viability of public transportation, and reduces the carbon footprint as compared to sprawling or low density development.  CATS estimates the following economic numbers for Charlotte's proposed streetcar:

• Streetcar could increase residential development along corridor by 44-73%

• Streetcar could increase retail along corridor by 44-54% and office/hotels by 13-17%

• Local tax revenue could increase by average $7.3 million to $13.3 million over 25 year

What's Next: Center City Initiatives

Great cities have great urban cores and Charlotte has one of the most vibrant in the Southeast. Creative public/private initiatives are key to building the robust Center we enjoy today, and Charlotte Center City Partners has played a vital role in bringing many of these ideas together.

Romare Bearden Park

Romare Bearden Park is designed to cover the space between Church and Mint Streets and MLK Boulevard and 4th Streets. The Park is named after Romare Bearden, an internationally renowned artist who as born in Charlotte in 1912 and at one point lived in close proximity to the location of the proposed park. Romare Bearden Park is designed to allow people to gather, relax, and mingle in an open space in Uptown Charlotte. The project broke ground on on the 100th anniversary of the famous artists’ birthday on September 2, 2011with anticipated completion in 2012.

BB&T Ballpark

The Charlotte Knights’ Uptown Stadium is part of a proposed “Land Swap” plan that originated in the 2010 Center City Vision Plan. The “Land Swap” is an exchange of public and private property in Uptown Charlotte that creates two major urban parks, a AAA Uptown Baseball Park as well as Brooklyn Village in Second Ward which includes affordable and workforce housing along with shops and offices. The project was delayed for many years due to funding issues. The County Commission created new deadlines for the project in the summer of 2011, requiring that the Knights account for adequate funding by June 30, 2012, begin construction in October 2012, and finish construction in time for the 2014 season.


Through visionary public and private leadership, Charlotte has enjoyed an exempletory renaissance over the last 15 years.  However, lets be honest. Charlotte lacks the historic urban building fabric and the natural amenities that Jacksonville has at its possession. Imagine what we could accomplish locally if we simply decide to take advantage of what we already have.

Article by Ennis Davis