Big shift as Mecklenburg County leaders push for public park, recreation complex for Eastland Yards

The possibility of a taxpayer-owned sports tourism venue and park space only surfaced on Monday, when the city's economic development staff presented the idea to the council's economic development committee.

Big shift as Mecklenburg County leaders push for public park, recreation complex for Eastland Yards

On Tuesday afternoon, members of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners urged Charlotte's city government to seriously consider a public-owned recreation project and a possible green space on a 29 acre portion of Eastland Yards.

Discussion with County Commissioners and County Manager Dena Diorio took place during the regularly scheduled meeting of county commissioners on economic development. The county has committed between $15 and $17 million towards Eastland Yards, while the city has approved from $36.5 to $38.5.

Eastland Yards, a joint venture between the city and private sector, is located on 80 acres of land that was formerly Eastland Mall.

The city government purchased the closed mall in 2012, and the surrounding land, and demolished it the following year. Over the last decade, city officials and neighborhood groups have tried to encourage private investment. This effort has paid off in the last year, with the beginning of construction on a mix townhomes and apartments, as well as retail and other uses by Crosland Southeast.

What happens to the 29 acres that Tepper Sports & Entertainment originally intended for a Charlotte FC soccer team headquarters is still up in the air. Tepper Sports decided not to build at Eastland Yards last summer.

Elaine Powell told the City Council Economic Development Committee and Tracy Dodson (head of the city's economic development) and Malcolm Graham (head of the City Council's Economic Development committee), who are not members of the committee, that she believes public solutions will be the best solution.

Dodson had only mentioned the possibility of a taxpayer owned sports tourism venue or park space a day before, when he told Graham's Committee that a city-backed project would be considered alongside private proposals.

The council committee narrowed the private proposals down to two on Monday. They promise either a hub for racquetsports or a sports-music-esports concept. The public funding would cover 88% of a $32.3 million racquet sports complex proposed by the nonprofit Carolina Serves, and 49% for a $61 million concept of esports amateur sports and music presented by a consortium of Southern Entertainment and Carolina Esports Hub.

Dodson informed the county commissioners committee on Tuesday that the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, as well as others from the public sector, had mentioned the idea of creating a sports and recreation venture owned and operated by the government. There is no formal proposal, but one may be drafted in the next few months. The city government will analyze and evaluate its other proposals while also seeking input from residents and neighborhood groups. Crosland Southeast has a significant influence on what happens to the 29-acre property.

Dodson said to CBJ following the meeting on Tuesday that the city welcomed Mecklenburg County’s interest in a possible collaboration. She also informed Diorio the county manager that she did not seek any additional funding from Mecklenburg. She said she would not reject additional funding from the county, if commissioners were interested. The county government's Park and Recreation Department is the most important government agency in the region for parks, fields, greenways and other recreational areas.

Eastland Yards will have a 4.6 acre park owned by the county as part of its larger property, which is now in the first phase of construction. Originally, it was going to be 2.8 acre.

Leigh Altman, a member of the committee, said that 5 acres is'very small' for a park. She would rather see Eastland Yards include significant green and recreational space on its remaining 29 acres. She added that the 4.6-acre green space is nice, but 'doesn’t tick the box' for her.

Altman told the committee that she believes a Freedom Park of the east should be the ultimate goal. She was referring to the county park of 98 acres bordering the Myers Park neighborhood and the Dilworth neighborhood.

Dodson stated this week that the city is willing to invest $20 to $40 million in order to bring to life a project centered on recreation at Eastland Yards, a 29-acre property. She warned on Monday and Tuesday that there are many questions to be answered regarding the viability and operation of any project approved by the city, Crosland, and possibly the county.

Mark Jerrell, member of the committee and commissioner, said: "I'm glad that the public solution is available." Dodson had mentioned a project in which the city, county and visitors authority, all of them funded by taxpayers, could be involved.

Powell, who was a member of the county park and recreational commission for three terms before being elected to the board of county commissioners in 2018, stated that a public-owned project would be the best way to meet the needs.

She said that parks not only benefit the environment, but also residents. They also encourage private development. She gave two examples: Romare Bearden Park (5.4 acres), which opened in 2013, and First Ward Park (4 acres), which opened in 2015.