CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - SouthPark was built for cars, but the city wants to remake it for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Charlotte has unveiled 45 new projects to transform the businesses and neighborhoods surrounding SouthPark mall, including a new trail along Fairview Road and a "Backlot Trail" that would link Park Road Park and McMullen Creek Greenway.
The list of projects is ambitious, and the city doesn't have enough money to build everything. The city is floating the idea of partnering with deep-pocketed companies in the area to help fund them.
The city has $10 million for the SouthPark area that came from the roughly $800 million Capital Improvement Program approved by City Council in 2013. Five other neighborhoods citywide also received bond money as part of the capital plan.
The city doesn't have an estimate for how much all 45 projects would cost, but one business group partnering with the city estimates they would cost $80 million.
"We don't know how much we can do with $10 million," said city project manager Fran West. "The question for residents is: Do you want one big project or multiple small projects?"
One of the biggest is the proposed Fairview Trail. It would run along Fairview Road from Colony Road to the 30-mile Cross Charlotte Trail trail that's under construction near Park Road Park. That trail will cover the entire length of the county. The Fairview Trail would be similar to a large sidewalk, with room for bikes and walkers.
"We need to connect the city's second-largest business center to the Cross Charlotte Trail," West said. "We want to bring that same type of experience into the heart of SouthPark."
The city is also considering building a three-mile "Cultural Loop" that would ring SouthPark mall, passing by the Morrison Regional Library, Phillips Place and Piedmont Row. The loop would mostly use existing sidewalks and streets, and would be enhanced with public art, new plazas and landscaping.
West said the loop would be modeled after the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which is eight miles and cost $63 million.
The largest project would be the "Park Loop," which would make a much larger circle around the mall. A combination of sidewalks and trails, it would go as far north as Myers Park High School, and pass through Foxcroft, Mountainbrook and Beverly Woods before ending at Park Road Park.
Another idea: Make Rexford Road north of the mall into a more attractive street that the city said can be a home for information technology and financial technology companies, or FinTech.
With so many ideas – and not much money – the city has been meeting with the SouthPark Coalition, a newly formed group of business owners. The coalition and the city are brainstorming ways that the private sector could help move projects forward.
Coalition member Tracy Dodson, a senior vice president of Lincoln Harris, said the SouthPark area has changed dramatically since she began working there earlier this decade. At that time, few people considered walking for small, routine trips like going to lunch. Now she said it's common for people to cross Fairview Road to reach new restaurants that have leased space on the first floor of office buildings.
"People want to be connected to different things, and it's becoming an urban environment," she said. "Ten years ago it was fine to get in your car. People don't want to do that anymore."
Dodson said the city can better coordinate with the private sector when property is rezoned. In those instances, the city can see if there is other development planned nearby, and get all property owners to coordinate to make sidewalk, streetscape and intersection improvements at the same time.
She said it's likely older office buildings will be demolished and redeveloped, and that it's important to see how infrastructure can be improved when that happens.
Dodson suggested the city consider creating a fund for the area that could be used to match private-sector contributions.
One reason the city has been focused on partnering with SouthPark businesses is that it's the city's second-biggest business center, after uptown. Companies there are large enough to contribute to public improvements that would benefit the entire area.
Another reason is that SouthPark's share of neighborhood bond money is small.
As part of the capital plan, Prosperity Village and Whitehall/Arysley each received $30 million. Beatties Ford Road, West Trade and Rozzelles Ferry, and Central/Albemarle/Shamrock each received $20 million.
Council member Tariq Bokhari, who represents the area, said he hopes the partnership can be a "petri dish" that can be used elsewhere.
"We want to see what works and what can be duplicated," he said.
Most of the proposed SouthPark projects are small.
They include a new sidewalk on Barclay Downs Drive, an important thoroughfare that doesn't have sidewalks. A dozen new pedestrian crossings are planned on Sharon Road, Colony Road and Sharon View Road.
The city has also proposed rebuilding several streets.
Barclay Downs Drive could be reduced from four to two lanes between Fairview Road and Morrison Boulevard. Carnegie Boulevard and Morrison Boulevard could also be dropped from four to two lanes.