After a years-long search for a new home, local nonprofit arts education organization Arts+ is in talks to lead the creation of a new cultural campus at the former Plaza Presbyterian Church in Plaza Midwood where it borders Villa Heights.
The recognizable property at 2304 The Plaza encompasses three buildings (including the church’s sanctuary) totaling 35,000 square feet on 2.19 acres at the intersection of The Plaza, Parkwood and Mecklenburg avenues. Since the 1920s, it has been the home of Plaza Presbyterian Church, which closed in 2022. Now Arts+ plans to breathe new life into the space.
Arts+ and Presbytery of Charlotte, which owns the property, signed a memorandum of understanding in June and are in the due diligence phase, as announced on July 25, moving toward the signing of a 50-year lease.
Arts+ is working with architects at C Design and other professionals to evaluate the property, with the goal of housing the Arts+ administrative offices; Studio 345, a free digital arts program for high school students; Charlotte Youth Choir; summer camps; and various other music and visual arts programs on site.
“The Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association [PMNA] is thrilled that the Presbytery of Charlotte is offering this chance to preserve a significant area within Plaza Midwood for a generation,” said PMNA President Jim Truchon. “The planned renovations under the guidance of Arts+ will bring advantages to our neighborhood, adjacent areas, and the entire city. With all the changes happening around us, we also believe this project will help to preserve the character of the neighborhood.”
Arts+ anticipates a three-year property upfit, supported by a capital campaign of $15-$18 million, of which $12-$15 million would consist of construction and upfit costs. The remainder will go into an endowment to help support the operation of the space on a yearly basis.
Arts+ intends to retain as much of the original buildings, which date from the 1920s to 1960s, as possible through adaptive reuse while increasing their functionality and accessibility.
The history of Arts+
Since its founding in 1969, originally as Community School of the Arts, Arts+ has been working to expand arts accessibility to children of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds through music and visual arts instruction and other programs.
The nonprofit has been on a journey to find a new permanent location since before moving out of its longtime home in Spirit Square in September 2021.
At one point, Arts+ was in talks with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to lease the former Morgan School in the historically Black neighborhood of Cherry, but some residents pushed back against the plan as it clashed with their desire to reclaim the school.
In February 2022, the school board voted to approve Cherry Community Organization’s (CCO) letter of interest to buy Morgan School and preserve it as a history and neighborhood engagement center, though they have since failed to provide an appraisal for the building itself, instead appraising the property at $2 million if the school were to be torn down, which is not the CCO’s intention.
In the meantime, Arts+ has been operating out of Ascend Nonprofit Solutions (formerly Children & Family Services Center) in Uptown Charlotte while also hosting programs at local churches, schools and community centers.
“Our road to this Plaza Midwood property has been full of twists and turns, but ultimately, this is an incredible opportunity for Arts+ and Charlotte, in particular the neighborhoods of Plaza Midwood, Villa Heights and NoDa,” said Devlin McNeil, Arts+ president and executive director. “This is the realization of our long-term goal of moving into a permanent home to create a centralized hub for the spokes of our programming that takes place across the city.”
The announcement came at a convenient time for families in the aforementioned neighborhoods and others in the surrounding areas, as they will be losing a community center when the Johnston YMCA in NoDa closes at the end of the year.
In May, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte announced its intent to sell the property to a developer, abandoning previous plans to remain at the site through a long-awaited redevelopment that had been in the works for years.
Finding a home for Arts+
Arts+ leadership became aware of the Plaza Presbyterian Church location when they began their search for a permanent facility years ago, but McNeil said the timing was never quite right. In June 2022, the Presbytery contracted with real estate consulting firm Give Impact to help determine the best use for the property since both the church and preschool had ceased operations.
Give Impact put out a request for interest to the Charlotte community and Arts+ was among the nonprofits that responded.
“One of our key hopes is that this will be a place where community members from all backgrounds can come together to learn about and celebrate art in its many forms,” said Liz Ward of Give Impact. “And by doing so, possibly learn about each other and forge new relationships that will strengthen this community. We can’t wait to see how the broader community embraces and supports this effort.”
Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill, associate general presbyter with Presbytery of Charlotte, said the church is “ecstatic” about its partnership with Arts+.
“We are grateful that the Plaza Presbyterian Church campus will continue to be a beacon of light in the Plaza Midwood community,” she said.
Arts+ will activate a good portion but not all of the available square footage on the site. For the rest of the space, McNeil said the organization saw an opportunity for innovation that aligns with the emerging insights of the recent Charlotte Arts and Culture Plan.
McNeil said the as-yet-unnamed Arts+ cultural campus in Plaza Midwood aims to address at least four of the plan’s eight priorities, including access to affordable space for arts organizations, access to arts and culture for the community, increased collaboration among arts organizations, and availability of lifelong arts education.
“The sanctuary space is ideal for performances, and we anticipate having that available for nonprofits and community groups,” McNeil said. “There were many organizations that were interested, but wanted only minimal space. We intend to reach out to them to see if they would still be interested — office space for some, programming space for others.”
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