As tens or hundreds or thousands of people move into Charlotte every day, depending on who you believe — OK, we’re pretty sure nobody is saying thousands, yet — it’s easy to see why parking has become such a headache in our fair city.
Which areas should be deemed the very worst for parking in Charlotte is a constant point of debate among our staff, each of which believes their own traumatizing experience at one of the below-listed locations could be fodder for a memoir that would make Angela’s Ashes look like a day in the park.
It was through these conversations that we decided to put together a list of Charlotte’s most infamous parking lots. Despite the rage that re-visiting these spots brought up in us, the list itself is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and of course we’re open to suggestions from readers about which ones we left out and why we’re wrong. No disrespect to any businesses mentioned in the list; some of these locations are our favorite places to visit, if not for the mind-numbing design of your parking lots.
So here’s our list for you to agree with or argue, as we’re off to buy a bus pass.
Atherton Mill and Market
2140 South Blvd.
Recently it’s felt like there are more businesses that operate out of Atherton Mill than there are parking spots for patrons. The current redevelopment of Atherton, set to finish sometime this year, will bring 346 apartments and 115,000 square feet of retail space to the block. Sure, it will also include an increase in parking opportunities, but it’s hard to believe that any additional parking will cover the increased traffic that will come with that sort of explosion. And currently, that same redevelopment has taken away from the sparse parking that was already available.
In the meantime, folks are making do with what’s available on the lot, and it ain’t much. This makes for one of those fun situations in which people create their own parallel spots in front of storefronts like Luna’s Living Kitchen just a matter of feet from where the lucky folks who found legit parking spots are parked, making it harder for them to back out as soon as they finish their plant-based smoothie.
To their credit, the fine folks at Atherton Mill have worked out a deal with a nearby retail center at 214 W. Tremont Ave. so that Atherton customers can park there and make the quick two-block walk across Tremont and through the Big Ben lot. However, that free parking is only an option on weekends and after 6 p.m. on weekdays, so if you’re a day tripper and can’t find a spot on your first go-round, you will be sucked into the oblivion of South End parking, taking laps around Pike’s Soda Shop looking for a free spot.
The 2015 addition of parking meters along surrounding streets that charge during business hours only hurts the cause and goes to show why the influx of development and new residents in South End has made it a less-inviting place to visit in recent years.
Plaza Midwood (the whole God-forsaken neighborhood)
Central Avenue at The Plaza and the surrounding areas
“Easy as 1-2-3,” the sign says. If that description rings a bell, then you’ve probably survived reverse angle parking on the three-block stretch of Commonwealth Avenue that forms the heart of Plaza Midwood’s arts and entertainment district.
The instructions tell you to signal right, pull forward to a stop and then reverse into one of the angled parking spaces that line both sides of the thoroughfare. Introduced as RAP — Reverse Angle Parking — complete with a cringe-inducing rap by Charlotte-born performer Jason Lane in March 2013, the redesign replaced perfectly serviceable non-angled front-first parking spaces. The city’s engineering program insisted the change would slow down traffic and increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. We say it needlessly backs up traffic in an already congested area and turns the simple act of parking into a nerve-shredding and paint-scraping test of hand-eye coordination.
The streets of Plaza Midwood may have been paved with good intentions but instead they led to parking hell. But RAP along Commonwealth is a mere bauble in the Plaza Midwood parking shitshow treasure trove. It’s nearly impossible to park in the neighborhood after dark for free without getting ticketed, booted or towed. Longtime residents know of secret spots in lots behind businesses closed for the night, but those safe lots can turn into treacherous tow-away zones with little or no notice.
The large lot on Central Avenue between CVS and the strip mall that houses Organic Harvest and the ABC store was once a safe haven for desperate parkers, but several years ago, nearby businesses started purchasing and diligently policing spaces in the lot. Sure, “No Parking” signs were posted, but many motorists were still caught unaware.
Neighborhood disgust with one particular establishment soared when an activity bus for the developmentally disabled parked in a space purchased by the business and was promptly booted. Until recently, the lot for the abandoned Charlotte Fire Department Credit Union was a safe haven, but with the building now undergoing demolition, that lot is a no-go zone.
Plaza Midwood would benefit from a reasonably priced paid lot. In the meantime, you can walk, cycle, Uber or park further and further away on St. Julian Street, Thomas Avenue or Nassau Boulevard. Or you can stay home.
AvidXchange Music Factory
1000 N.C. Music Factory Blvd.
“Amazing venue, horrific parking.” That assessment from a 2016 TripAdvisor post captures the situation at the Music Factory in a nutshell. Though the AvidXchange parking deck was built a year after that post, the prognosis still holds. If you’re attending a special event at the entertainment complex prepare to hunker down in the deck for a spell because traffic bottlenecks and gridlocks for at least an hour after a show.
And forget about parking anywhere nearby for free. The Music Factory charges $5 to park in the deck on weekend nights and nights when events are held. Still, it’s not a bad deal. The Music Factory’s real parking problem kicks in during the daytime on weekdays.
Two years ago, when most of Queen City Nerve’s staff worked at an office at the Music Factory, we noticed that orange cones started to appear, blocking off all on-street parking on N.C. Music Factory Boulevard on event days. Since the cones went up at 6 p.m., it was no big deal. We accepted it as a useful reminder to get the hell out of the office and have a life outside work. But the following year, the encroaching cones started coming out at 8 a.m. on event days, constricting parking options to a limited number of spaces in the World Nightclub parking lot.
The good news was that we could park in the Music Factory’s deck for free. The bad news was that we usually left work when event traffic started flooding into the area. To make matters worse, tape started going up along the middle of the boulevard, making a left turn from the World lot onto the thoroughfare impossible. After several calls to the Charlotte Department of Transportation, we were transferred to a Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department spokesperson, who informed us that N.C. Music Factory Boulevard was a public street and that the tape and cones were, in the spokesperson’s words, illegal.
Though we’re long gone from the Music Factory, the parking situation still holds, at least for now. A rumor is circulating that the city is planning to turn all on-street parking on N.C. Music Factory Boulevard into metered spaces, but we haven’t able to confirm. As of now, all on-street parking is blocked off all day during events. On the plus side, you can park in the deck for a reasonable rate as long as you’re willing to wait in gridlock for an hour or two after the show.
230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd.
Let’s be honest, when The Last Word packed up and moved further up North Tryon Street in 2015, there was no longer any reason to go to the Grand Promenade shopping center.
A year after the local used book store left the intersection of North Tryon Street and East W.T. Harris Boulevard, a Massachusetts-based company named Ferris Development bought the shopping center with eyes on the growth that would follow the opening of the light rail. The developers would eventually rebrand Grand Promenade as McCullough Commons.
A Ferris rep told the Charlotte Observer at the time that they would be promoting a “more walkable, less auto-dependent” vision for development in the University area, and boy was that exciting to hear. But two years later, the parking lot is still a shitshow. A new parking deck promises to ease some congestion, but as of Queen City Nerve’s print deadline, it was still in the midst of renovation.
With about 50 retail spaces and 15 dining options in McCullough Commons, it’s no wonder that things are going to get hairy at times. Try pulling into the IHOP entrance on a Sunday as folks are getting out of church and you’ll think the building’s being evacuated. Make your way through that little portal to find a stand-alone Walgreens, which acts as the bully of the block. Try to park anywhere near the store and you’ll be warned away by red signs reserving the spots for Walgreen’s customers. How many people have you ever had in your goddamn store at once, anyway?
Rounding that bend brings you to what Dante referred to as the ninth level of hell. Refugees turned away by the Walgreen’s signs fight for what’s left while navigating a system of turns and blind spots that must have been created by someone with a sick sense of humor.
Once that lot has failed you, you can try your luck in the back. Down a steep hill there’s a larger lot that should spell relief, but the existence of a whole unseen row of bars and retail means your battling a new contingent of parkers. No need to take a glimpse at the creepy old graveyard next to Buffalo Wild Wings to know this lot was cursed from the beginning.
320 S. Tryon St.
We all know that finding parking in Uptown is a nightmare, which is why some might consider this entry a cop out. But upon further review, we decided that Third Ward’s Latta Arcade deserves a (parking) spot on this list.
Although the quaint little alley next to Romare Bearden is no doubt a great place to hangout, if you want to visit the area known by many as the French Quarter after one of its staple restaurants, be prepared to shell out a stupid amount of dough for the few pay-to-park surface lots in the area. Not only are most of them covered in gravel and potholes, but the lines are faded and the sense of security is non existent.
If you don’t mind a little hit to your car’s suspension or a free-for-all over parking spaces, the prices aren’t terrible during the week. Even if you do decide to park, get ready for a small hike over to the Arcade because, of course, nothing about parking in Uptown is convenient.
14825 Ballantyne Village Way
If you find yourself on the outskirts of Charlotte, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the South Carolina border, don’t even try to busy yourself with parking at Ballantyne Village. Not only are the one-way aisles between rows of parking spaces tight, but it’s difficult just to find the entrance. A successful bait-and-switch usually leaves drivers in an isolated PNC Bank parking lot, circling around for eternity, just trying to park and get some Mellow Mushroom.
If you’re smart or experienced enough to skip the distracting driveway into the bank and enter the hellscape that is Ballantyne Village parking, then you are left with limited and tight parking.
The unlucky drivers who cannot secure an almost-too-small parking spot on the surface lot of Ballantyne Village must face the parking garage. Much like the Metropolitan, tight corners and small spots leave drivers consistently crossing over the double yellow line to almost collide with an oncoming vehicle.
At the very top of the parking garage — which doesn’t even offer a good view of anything — the giant yellow and white brick boxes scattered between parking spots means whoever’s in the backseat might be paying for a new paint job if the door is opened too quickly.
A collision with one of these strange brick boxes was evident when I visited the parking garage recently and one behemoth was crumbled, yellow bricks lying haphazardly around the destroyed center, exposing the four metal rods meant to reinforce the brick. Stay classy, Ballantyne.
Shops on 7th
1949 E. 7th St.
The main thoroughfare of the Elizabeth neighborhood is just a nightmare with the ever-changing traffic pattern of three lanes down the thoroughfare in Elizabeth. At rush hour, those traveling southeast are allotted two lanes while those going the opposite direction are given one lane. Don’t even get me started on when the middle lane is turn-only. Sometimes, people don’t read and just cruise along in the turn-only lane for a mile before realizing they almost caused seven accidents.
What really takes the cake is the parking lot at the intersection of 7th Street and Pecan Avenue. With the recent addition of The Crunkleton next to Starbucks, I suspect the parking situation will become worse over the next couple of months. Parking is horrible enough in the Elizabeth area without letting this surface lot ruin your day.
This Dollar General parking lot next to The Langston apartment building has earned its spot on this list of worst parking lots in Charlotte. Let’s start with the horrible driveway.
Whoever thought it would be a good idea to make the two-way entrance large enough to fit only one vehicle at a time deserves a special place in hell. Those who are entering the parking lot are forced to turn right, which means if you’re making a right turn into the lot, your car better have the turning radius the size of an ant to make it.
Then it seems that, much like other atrocious parking lots in Charlotte, city planners did not account for the size of vehicles and instead just eyeballed it and gave about two feet on either side for drivers to navigate. Pulling in and out of parking spots — if you can snag one after 5 p.m., good luck — is the equivalent of any terrifying scene from The Hurt Locker. One wrong move and you’re writing your insurance information on a napkin to leave on someone’s windshield.
If you find yourself jonesing to hang out somewhere like The Crunkleton, Caswell Station or The Stanley, the staff at Queen City Nerve highly suggests taking a cab to avoid having to park anywhere.
Metropolitan Parking Garage
1111 Metropolitan Ave.
Once upon a time your humble correspondent made a movie about a bulimic bloodsucker called Vampire Trailer Park. A proposed sequel called Vampire Theme Park, which never got made, depicted visitors getting slaughtered by rides that were actually death traps, whisking them into beds of rotating knives.
I only mention this because the movie’s fictitious slaughterhouse pales next to the skin-crawling terror that is the Metropolitan parking garage in Cherry. Parking at the Metropolitan feels just like a thrill ride designed to kill you. Like a haunted house attraction, the deck teems with blind spots where frazzled shoppers and unattended children pop out like shambling zombies. At any moment suicidal motorists can back out at supersonic speeds to slam into your vehicle.
Other drivers careen around ramps like they’re riding a grand slalom roller coaster. The too-tight spaces are a foot shorter than the nine feet the city recommends, so walking close to the deck’s congested traffic lanes is pure Darwinism in action. The slow risk becoming roadkill while the fleet-of-foot survive to shop again.
If you’ve made it this far, there’s still the elevator. The Metropolitan’s elevators take an eternity to arrive, but the doors slam shut after staying open mere microseconds, threatening to sever a limb or two before you can reach the relative safety of Trader Joe’s. All these challenges have pushed drivers to a psychopathic frenzy that would shame John Wayne Gacy into turning in his clown suit.
To be fair, Bayer Properties, which owns the Metropolitan, made some changes early last year that have significantly lowered the level of sheer horror inspired by the Deck of Death. The lanes on the first three floors are now all one way, and parking spaces on the ramps are blocked off by yellow caution tape. As a result, parking in the deck has become more time-consuming but less terror-inducing.
Forced with a decision between losing life and limb or damaging my car, I’d rather park way the hell up on level four and come down three stories to get groceries. But I’m taking the stairs. I’ll be damned if I’m going to get into those elevators again.
Highland Mill Lofts
2901 N. Davidson St.
The 2015 opening of Benny Pennello’s next to Heist Brewery in the Highland Mill Lofts was perhaps one of the best developments for NoDa in the last five years.
It was built into an existing historical residential space, rather than to have arrived as an attachment to some godawful new set of condos. It was just a small pizza spot with gigantic pizzas that stays open past 2 a.m., doesn’t attract a huge crowd of non-NoDidians (yeah, I said it) and best-of-all, is easy on the wallet.
The only negative for a patron trying to pull in for a quick to-go slice from Benny’s is the fact that on many evenings, especially weekends, there’s no place to do so thanks to the crowd at Heist next door. The folks at Highland Mill aren’t about to give up any residential parking, as gates stop you from considering any overflow opportunities.
But perhaps the most soul-crushing part of the guest parking outside of Heist and Benny’s is the size of the spots. There’s nothing worse than seeing what looks to be an empty spot only to realize that the next driver over is already taking up half of it — and through no fault of their own. Each parking spot is smaller than a slice of whatever the monthly special is at Benny’s.
And it is for that reason, mostly, that the Highland Mill Lofts parking lot earns our ire.
Park Road Shopping Center
4101 Park Road
Everybody loves the Park Road Shopping Center, right? Well, parts of it, anyway.
Of course, it’s been a staple of south Charlotte for more than 60 years, and that’s worth a cheers in itself. But what good is a great shopping center if the thought of parking there gives you an anxiety attack?
Let me share a little behind-the-scenes magic with you. It was during a recent family get-together when I was discussing my favorite bookstores in Charlotte with someone who followed up with, “Well, we’d love to go to Park Road Books more but the idea of parking in that parking lot is too much for us to deal with.” And alas, a story idea was born.
There’s a quote from the wise George Costanza that always comes to mind when I think of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot: “Parking is like sex; why would I pay for it when, if I just apply myself, I can get it for free?” It is true that if you put your mind to it, rarely will you be left pulling back onto Park or Woodlawn with your muffler between your legs.
The lot is big enough to accommodate most crowds, but it’s the design that throws most folks for a loop. The one-way lanes can get confusing, as it’s not always readily visible which one is which until you’ve pulled in and caught in a head-to-head with someone that ends with you sheepishly reversing out of the lane.
It takes some experience to master the lot, not just for the one-way navigation but because a few of the best spots in the center are hidden from sight. In order to get to Amelie’s or Sir Edmund Halley’s, one needs to make their way past Michael’s as if they’re exiting on Woodlawn Road before making a quick left toward what looks like nothing at all but actually leads to a few high-quality eateries.
TLDR; the shops are cool, the sign is cool, the parking lot sucks.