Two Eastland projects move forward, residents still waiting for results

Questions about public-private costs remain unanswered
Questions about public-private costs remain unanswered
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 6:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - After more than a decade of watching potential projects for Eastland fail, East Charlotte residents say they’re running out of patience and faith in city leaders to follow through on bringing an economic driver to their side of town.

Monday, Charlotte councilmembers finally started to move forward on the projects preferred by city staff and set deadlines on community engagement and naming the top choice.

During the council’s Jobs and Economic Development committee meeting, city staffers recommended pursuing two projects to revitalize the vacant city-owned land. Both proposals are sports-related and one of them was only submitted as a possibility last Friday.

East Charlotte residents have been yearning for momentum on the project after another public-private partnership in the River District, called Project Breakpoint, materialized and moved forward while Eastland lagged.

CharlotteEast Board Chair Greg Asciutto is worried about the commitment from city leaders after continued delays at the Eastland site.

He says he and his neighbors have been at the table for years, waiting for their turn to eat.

“This is where we’re going to continue to be unless staff really puts it in writing and the council pressures them to do so,” Asciutto said.

Charlotte council members tell WBTV the tennis project, named Project Breakpoint, is potentially a game changer for the city. But the optics and timing of the project are hard to ignore while the proposed Eastland projects stalled. None of the three partnerships originally proposed by city leaders are still being considered.

It also raises the question about whether the city’s hospitality tax revenues, which have been linked with the Eastland project and Project Breakpoint, are enough to fund both projects.

“I have been assured there will be enough pie to go around,” District 5 Councilmember Marjorie Molina told WBTV.

Molina and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell both represent East Charlotte and say they’ve been feeling the pressure from constituents to make sure the Eastland project isn’t put on the back burner.

“Eastland is not going to take a back seat to any project in this community. It’s taken a back seat for 13 years and that’s long enough,” Jerrell said.

Eastland closed in 2010 and since then has seen nothing but big aspirations that never happen. That includes proposals for a Latino shopping district, indoor ski facility, movie production studio, and, most recently, the headquarters for Charlotte FC.

None of them have come to fruition.

Construction at Eastland is moving slowly forward on homes, apartments, and commercial buildings. According to the original timeline given by Charlotte leaders and project developers, buildings were supposed to be going vertical by the summer of 2023.

But the city-owned property is still missing the crucial tenant to tie it all together.

On Monday, Charlotte’s Economic Development Office recommended pursuing two proposals.

QC East @ Eastland Yards

- Six multi-sport turf fields

- Outdoor amphitheater

- Indoor/Outdoor venue focusing on event space, tech, esports, and STEM educational opportunities

- Total cost $83 million. Public Investment is $30 million including $19 million from hospitality funds.

Eastland Yards Indoor Sports Complex

- 10 basketball courts/20 volleyball courts/40pickleball courts

- NC/SC Sports Hall of Fame

- Two FIFA regulation soccer pitches

- Total cost $68 million. Public investment is $28 million including $20 million for amateur sports facilities.


But it’s the other tennis facility on the table, Project Breakpoint, that’s making those Eastland proposals complicated.

Charlotte’s Tourism Fund comes from revenue generated by a 3% hotel/motel tax, a 1.5% rental car tax, and a U-Drive-It 4% tax already dedicated to cultural/arts projects. The city typically gets a loan to fund the projects and then uses the Tourism Fund revenues to pay down the debt.

Charlotte Economic Development Director Tracy Dodson recently told councilmembers the Breakpoint project could use anywhere from $60-$70 million from the Tourism Fund.

City financial records show that the fund is already being used to pay off more than $100 million in debt.

On Monday, Charlotte Chief Financial Officer Teresa Smith revealed the city still needs to add another $110 million to Tourism Fund debt to pay for the Spectrum Center renovations announced last year. Potentially, even more debt could be added in the future, as the budget total is $212 million.

During the presentation on Spectrum Center renovations, staff showed a chart indicating there was virtually no capacity for more Tourism Fund projects for several years. It wouldn’t be until 2028 that the fund had as much as $50 million of capacity.

During council’s Monday Budget and Governance meeting, Charlotte Budget and Strategy Director Ryan Bergman said he would work on getting a range of numbers for the Tourism Fund capacity.

“Every potential is different, it’s not like a static number is used,” Bergman said.

Despite the previously presented figures, elected officials say they’re still getting promises from staff that they can pay for projects.

“I’ve been assured that we have enough money to do what we need to do in Eastland,” Councilmember Molina told WBTV.

“What we’re not going to do, and I can’t stress this enough, we’re not going to take crumbs,” Commissioner Jerrell said.

State Representative John Bradford filed a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly that would extend Charlotte’s hospitality tax by decades and potentially create more revenue to complete public-private partnerships.

Asciutto says he needs more than just a verbal promise from Charlotte’s bureaucrat leaders.

“There’s no trust with city staff,” Asciutto said.

“We’re calling for accountability because there hasn’t been progress.”