CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - When it comes to urban design, few things get a worse rap than surface parking lots.
They're dead zones for pedestrians, black holes that suck in vibrancy, blazing puddles of asphalt in the summer sun, unappealing and even frightening in the dark. One knock people sometimes throw at uptown Charlotte is the amount of surface parking, which leaves some areas where it's clustered feeling like blocks-long dead zones.
But a number of surface parking lots have been redeveloped in recent years, and more are slated to turn into something else in the coming years as well. With land values rising and developers trying to build more densely downtown, putting apartments, a hotel or an office building in place of a surface parking lot seems like a no-brainer.
So, how many acres of surface parking lots have we lost in uptown? Not as many as you might guess, if you've been having trouble finding a place to park your car.
I went back and looked at how much acreage was devoted to surface parking inside the Interstate 277 loop in 2014, and compared it to what's surface parking now (This is the kind of curiosity itch you can scratch if you're a development reporter).
Major projects such as 300 South Tryon, First Ward Park, AvidXchange's new headquarters and the redevelopment of the former Charlotte Observer site have replaced surface parking lots in that time. Others, such as the Brooklyn Village redevelopment and a possible tower on South Tryon Street land that Duke Energy bought, will take more lots.
These estimates are based on my use of county property records and GIS software.
In 2014, roughly 136 acres inside the 277 loop were devoted to surface parking. Now, the total is about 117 acres – meaning 19 acres of surface parking lots have been redeveloped in that time.
That means the amount of surface parking has gone down by nearly 14 percent in uptown in those three years. Of course, that doesn't mean the amount of parking spaces has decreased that much – many of the new developments include parking decks, meaning the number of spaces could go up, though not all of those spaces would be public.
Uptown's total area is about 1,367 acres, so that means in 2014, almost 10 percent of the land area was surface parking lots. That's gone down to about 8 percent.
The parking that's left is most heavily clustered in First and Second wards.
Now, a few quick caveats: This analysis is focused on large, contiguous surface lots and doesn't include street parking or every surface space at schools, single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. It also doesn't include parking garages, many of which are standalone facilities.