Questions about Eastland Mall redevelopment still linger for Cit - | WBTV Charlotte

Questions about Eastland Mall redevelopment still linger for City of Charlotte


The city of Charlotte has agreed to enter into serious discussions with developers who want to build a movie studio at the vacant Eastland Mall. There's no contract because the city has some questions.

During a meeting with the City Council's Economic Development Committee, Pat Mumford of the City of Charlotte's Neighborhood & Business Services said questions include "what the involvement of the city will be? What the benefits of the project will ultimately be? Timing? Financing structure."

City staff said they like the idea of transforming the 80 acres of Eastland Mall into a major movie studio with sound stages, retail, a hotel and a film school.

But city workers told the economic development committee they need more time to get answers to their questions, especially about tax money.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said "what would be the form of public participation? What would be the timing of public participation? What would be the amount of public participation."

Mumford told the committee that city staff needed up to six months to get certainty on the issues of financing, development details, and timing that concerned them.

Developer Bert Hesse of Studio Charlotte Development said he was surprised that city staff didn't want to commit to his proposal.

"I feel like we've been dating for over a year" Hesse said. "I spent a million dollars dating the city of Charlotte. Now, I just need to know specifically are you telling me we're going to get engaged with the potential to get married. Or you still want six more months of holding hands."

Hesse told council members he and his investors were going to walk away from the project if the city didn't make a decision on Thursday to enter into serious discussions exclusively with Studio Charlotte.

"I've got investors who are waiting in line for me to tell them what our relationship is with the city of Charlotte. And I don't know what to tell them."

Hesse said he was expecting the city to enter into a memorandum of understanding.

"This period of a memorandum of understanding is set to allow both parties to kick the tires to see if we want to get married and that's all we're asking" Hess said. "We have questions too about the city. I don't know if the city is going to come back and say we want $30M for that property."

Hesse told reporters he's not sure developers will need tax money. He said Studio Charlotte is not looking for a subsidy from the city. "We want the property" he said. The question is how much will the city ask for Eastland Mall.

Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon said he believes the project could be successful but he understands why city staff want more time.

Cannon said he wants to make sure the proposed project will have a ripple effect on the east side of Charlotte and turn the community around.

"It seems like they felt we shouldn't be asking additional questions, however, I will tell you there's still some outlining issues that still reign relative to state tax credits" Cannon told WBTV. "If those credits will be available for them - we won't know until May - when the General Assembly reconvenes. If tax credits don't come into fruition, the deal itself is dead."

Hesse said the deal is depending on tax credits. He believes Governor McCrory and his staff will keep the tax credits for the film industry. Hesse said his company won't sit around and wait until May to see if they should move forward with redeveloping Eastland Mall.

"There's a lot we can do until it's resolved" Hesse said. "We're going under the assumption it will be resolved."

Hesse told the Economic Development Committee "we have people in other areas that are saying come here we want to marry you and I'm saying no I'm committed to the east side."

He told the city he needed an answer from them.

In the end, the Economic Development committee voted to recommend that the full city council agree to enter into a memorandum of understanding and talk only to Studio Charlotte about the redevelopment of Eastland mall.

Hesse called the decision "huge." 

He said "the perception is Charlotte wants to be in the film business and they want to figure out how to make it work."

Meanwhile, WBTV has learned interior demolition of Eastland Mall will begin by the middle of September.

The entire mall is scheduled to demolished by the middle of next year.

Hesse says if the city and Studio Charlotte eventually come to an agreement and sign a contract, he hopes to break ground in 2014 for his grand movie studio project.

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