A slew of long-vacant buildings on East 7th Street in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood were turned into piles of rubble last week when crews demolished the structures to make way for future development.
The work is being spearheaded by Chicago-based Centrum Realty & Development, which opened an office in Charlotte in 2021 and has since been buying land in South End and Dilworth for various mixed-use apartment and office projects.
In July, the firm purchased five parcels in the 1800 block of East 7th Street for $8.5 million — 1801, 1809, 1815, 1819 and 1825 E. 7th Street — marking its first acquisition in the Elizabeth neighborhood.
Demolition of a former church and three other vacant structures there began Jan. 30 and continued through the week. On Jan, 31, Centrum filed a petition with the city of Charlotte to rezone 1.63 acres at 1801 E. 7th St., from B-1 (Business) to MUDD-O (Mixed Use Development District Optional).
Despite the recent activity, Centrum’s managing partner Larry Powers said there’s no official redevelopment plan for any of the parcels yet and any future project is still in the “very early stages.”
“I wouldn’t say that the demolition is an indication that work is going to begin immediately,” Powers said. “It was more that we had determined that we were not going to be able to reuse the buildings, and then furthermore, that the buildings staying there were presenting a concern.”
Despite attempts to secure the unoccupied buildings, Powers said there were issues with repeated break-ins and vandalism. In one of the buildings, two small fires had been set inside.
“Every week, a new window would get boarded up. We would board one up, and they’d throw a brick through the next one and we’d board that one up,” Powers said. “It was probably silly, but we were trying to avoid just cladding these buildings in plywood. After a few months, it became pretty clear that we’re just delaying the inevitable and we’ve kind of got an unsafe condition.”
Though the structures have long sat vacant on East 7th Street as they’ve continued to deteriorate, becoming an eyesore for some and hassle for their owners, they do hold some historical significance. According to property records, 1801 E. 7th Street was built in 1960 as Faith Presbyterian Church. Its last known use was as a Christian recovery center.
Initially built in 1910 as a single-family home, 1809 E. 7th Street housed a variety of businesses over the years, including a radio and television repair business, a hearing aid service shop, a real estate firm and most notably McMahan Shoes.
Also a single-family home, 1815 E. 7th Street was built in 1925 and was later turned into an office building. Next door, the 1920-built 1819 E. 7th Street was also a residential-turned-commercial property. In the 1960s to early ‘70s it housed Rosemary Antique Shop, then Unique Boutique in the ‘80s. It was also home to several salons over the years, as well as a career planning office.
Given the historic nature of the structures, Centrum worked with the Elizabeth Community Association (ECA) prior to the demolition to save a number of mantels, doors, staircase parts and other treasures for neighbors to re-home. The ECA also arranged for a salvage company to remove some of the windows.
Powers said he wished he could have saved more architectural elements, but it just wasn’t possible.
“If you thought the exterior looked bad, the interior would have really appalled you,” he said.
Evan Kettler, chair of the ECA’s Land Use & Development Committee, said Centrum has been a good partner ever since purchasing the East 7th Street properties last summer, participating in several informal meetings with the neighborhood association to discuss visions and priorities for the site.
Kettler said the ECA has shared with Centrum their desire for a mixed-use plan with a heavy residential component.
“We like the idea of more housing choices. We like the idea of more retail, restaurant and neighborhood service choices for the community, as we continue to build out the walkability of Elizabeth,” Kettler said.
Though it is still very early in the planning process, Kettler said both parties are collaborating in a healthy way.
“[Larry Powers] is interested in what the community is looking for there and we’re interested in having a positive impact on what he does there. And we recognize that there’s some things he can do without asking us as well,” Kettler said.
“He did not have to speak with us. He could have just ignored us and waited for the UDO and done whatever he could do by-right and not been at all concerned with the community. Instead, we’ve had very open and healthy conversations.”
In August, Charlotte City Council passed the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which sets new rules about how Charlotte will grow. Part of that includes new zoning districts within the city.
Existing zoning districts will translate to new UDO zoning districts when the UDO becomes effective on June 1, 2023, consolidating the number of districts from 34 to 21.
Existing conditional zoning districts (those in which the city allows a change in zoning activities) will not translate in the new UDO, but will be considered for alignment zoning after June 1.
“We’re comfortable with what can be done under the UDO,” Powers said. “It’s more a question of, is there a plan that the community would prefer, as compared to what could be done under the UDO, and if there’s a plan that they would prefer, then obviously, if it works for us, then that would be a win-win.”
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