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DigitalSky

Westside Retail Development

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For a while, Freedom Mall will mix retail, county offices

Eventually the stores will close, but county doesn't need space yet

LEIGH DYER

Staff Writer

Freedom Mall is slated to continue operating as a shopping center for several years after its owner, Mecklenburg County, begins turning it into offices for county workers, a county staffer said Tuesday.

A publicly owned mall-office complex is highly unusual, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, but the arrangement has the potential to benefit the remaining retailers.

"It's a built-in customer base," said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the shopping center trade group. And while offices don't bring as much traffic into a mall as more stores would, they're better than vacant space. "You certainly don't want a shuttered gray box," he said.

Mark Hahn, the county's director of real estate services, updated west Charlotte neighbors and area business owners on the mall plan Tuesday at a meeting held in a vacant store.

County commissioners paid $6.6 million for the 405,000-square-foot mall and surrounding 37 acres in December 2003. After spending a year studying and planning, the county is poised to begin this month spending $12 million to improve the mall and ready it for the first batch of county workers, Hahn said.

The mall's fortunes have been ailing since one of its primary anchors, a Target, closed in 1996. Currently, it's 55 percent occupied with tenants including Peebles, Foot Locker and General Nutrition Centers.

Because the county plans to finish its master plan for the property, it will likely be more than a year before workers move in, Hahn said. The first slated to move are the information technology department, the transportation department for the Department of Social Services, the storage facility for voting machines and a facility for building and grounds maintenance, he said.

Eventually, the county plans to close all the stores and convert the mall completely to offices. Only outparcels lining the corner of Freedom Drive and Ashley Road would remain restaurants, shops and service businesses. The county plans to spruce up the building's exterior, plant trees in its asphalt lot and create pedestrian cut-throughs across the property as part of the makeover.

But the county won't need all the mall's interior space until at least one of its two major uptown office complexes, the Hal Marshall Center and the Robert L. Walton Plaza, are sold for redevelopment. The Hal Marshall site has been eyed for years for a mixed-use development that could include a new museum, while the Walton building is in an area the city has targeted for residential development.

Either project could be five years or more away, Hahn said. So the county is working with retailers, offering them short-term leases, to keep them intact as long as possible, he said.

Linda Jackson, manager of Rainbow Apparel in the mall, said she isn't sure whether county office workers will boost her sales after they move in. But with $1.5 million in annual sales, her store is doing well, and she's glad it can stay open a while longer, she said.

"It'll look good to see these empty (spaces) be occupied with people," she said.

Barbara Campbell, who lives three miles from the mall off Tuckaseegee Road, goes there three days a week for exercise -- six laps around the mall's interior concourse is three miles. "I'm just glad it will stay open," she said as she paused during a lap Tuesday.

But not everyone has been a fan of the county's plan. Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner, whose district includes the mall, would rather see a mixed-use development that includes housing and shops. "I wasn't happy when (the county) bought the facility because I thought we could have a better use from a tax perspective," Turner said during the meeting.

And Herbert Weathers, president of the nearby Enderly Park neighborhood association, said he'd prefer the county try to lure a cafeteria, bowling alley or other neighborhood-friendly amenities to the site.

But Mary Hopper, consultant to the Freedom Drive Development Association, said studies have shown the area has had too much retail space to be supported by its population, a situation likely to worsen after a Wal-Mart opens nearby on Wilkinson Boulevard. Members of the association's board have expressed support of the county's plan, she said.

Hahn said the county's plan should help strengthen the prospects for the Freedom Drive corridor in the long term.

"It's not something we're going to do quickly," he said. "It's something we're going to do right."

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There haven't been any threads (from what i remember, or could find) on the new Walmart on Wilkinson, so i thought i'd just combine it here for a general "Westside" thread.

I am not a walmart fan by any stretch (i haven't shopped in walmart in years because of their low wages), but for some reason, i'm really cheering on the development at Ashley and Wilkinson. This area has been blighted for so long, that walmart has started to provide some momentum for the area, especially in the retail context.

This very store was mentioned in the CNBC special on the positive and negative effects of Walmart... it is rare example of a place where the surrounding community is welcoming them with open arms.

I drove by the other day and most of the structure is built already. they are now about halfway done the facade treatments.

The only outparcel that has been publicized is ABC, which is certainly not a great thing for the neighborhood. I hope walmart does better with their other tenant choices.

http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/business/12273353.htm

The rezoning siteplan, which shows how the project will look

http://www.charmeck.org/Departments/Planni...ns/2004-052.htm

The Wilkinson Boulevard Transit line newsletter

http://www.charmeck.org/NR/rdonlyres/e4cjy...estWinter05.pdf

The shopping center next door received a renovation in anticipation of the new traffic related to the walmart. The parking lot was resurfaced and landscaped (including a roundabout), and a new facade was built. Hyatt Guns has also been renamed to "Hyatt Coin and Gun", which somehow makes it seem better.

Considering this an important corridor connecting the airport to downtown, if walmart provides enough of a customer base to revive retail in the area, the image of the westside could improve dramatically.

(This shouldn't be a generic "walmart is bad" thread, as we have had those discussions many times...try to keep the discussion limited to this specific location)

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I think the Wal-Mart is Awesome for the area ! I participate in a voluntary program for the youth on that side of town and can tell you personally that there is a real positive vibe from the residents. Everyone seems to be taking a bit more "PRIDE" in where they live. This IMO is what it is going to take to revitalize a urban corridor that is so important to Charlotte. I also see this as a catalyst to getting more retail and jobs in the area. The Wal-Mart effect almost always brings improvements to the surrounding area by the way it encourages perimeter development. (ie Restraunts, gas stations, other Retailers, etc etc) It is all based on what many of us learned in ECON 101:

Cluster Marketing.

I think those two words will ring true in this Wal-Mary project. This area of Charlotte, that has been blighted for many years, will start to see a renewal take place, of the like, I do not think we have seen before. :)

NOTE: I am not a fan of Wal-Mart's in general, but as Dubone said, I think the thread should pertain to the effect that THIS Wal-Mart will have for this area of town. So my two cents gives it a WAY BIG two thumbs up... :thumbsup:

A2

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WOW, I hadn't heard about the Wal-Mart. That's pretty good. I think the only thing close to there is a K-Mart.

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WOW, I hadn't heard about the Wal-Mart.  That's pretty good. I think the only thing close to there is a K-Mart.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yeah i'm sure that the new Wal-Mart on Wilkinson will be the death of the Freedom Kmart.

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Yeah i'm sure that the new Wal-Mart on Wilkinson will be the death of the Freedom Kmart.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think that Kmart on freedom is the best one in the area. It will be unfortunate if it closes because it is one of the few remaining stores over there--it looks like the land that time forgot.

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the wilkinson boulevard walmart appears to be nearly done, on the outside at least.

The parking lot is mostly paved, and they were just coloring the brick-looking speed tables as of last weekend. there are already some employees parked and working inside.

At this point, the major benefit of this walmart is already in effect: removing the appearance of blight from a major section of wilkinson, which is the taxi route between the airport and downtown. The empty big boxes in that block were major eyesores and were mine and many others' first impression of charlotte.

Now, the Westerly Hills shopping Center is refaced with more attractive brick veneer, stucco, and architectural elements... the empty big boxes are gone... and one of the most attractive looking walmart stores is almost completed.

There are a few remaining eyesores, but most of them would otherwise be okay-looking if they replaced their rusty chain-link fences and barbed wire with those faux-wraughtiron fences or something similarly more attractive.

I also suspect that with walmart there, a few complementary retail outlets will buy some of the nearby parcels.

Many may not realize this, but it is only 1.5miles from the Belk277/77 interchange, and less than 3 miles from trade and tryon.

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kmartfreedom8ib.jpg

The Kmart on Freedom Drive, which will probably die once the Wal-Mart is up and running... also I don't know how stores around Freedom like Maxway and Big Lots will fare either

It is interesting to note its proximity to uptown as dubone mentioned, but some people thing that the other side of the tracks or the other side of the interstate just isn't a good area.

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kmartfreedom8ib.jpg

The Kmart on Freedom Drive, which will probably die once the Wal-Mart is up and running... also I don't know how stores around Freedom like Maxway and Big Lots will fare either

NOTHING can kill Maxway. It's in a retail world of its own :lol:

What's with the "Shiny" store beside Kmart?

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The new walmart on Wilkinson Blvd

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Westerly Hills shopping center post renovation:

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Westerly Hills center before renovation:

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Wow!!! What a dramatic change! I like the whole "southwest-meets-wild west" theme of the Westerly Hills shopping center and the Wal-Mart

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yeah, it is a bit cheesy-southwestern... but i applaud the owners of westerly hills for redoing their facade when they were already almost fully leased.

my gosh, they really are so different than what was there before.

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Wow, I have never seen a Family Dollar in such a 'yuppiefied' center! :lol:

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there are no yuppies shopping on wilkinson blvd. :)

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What the heck is up with that Wal-Mart? I think they overdid it just a bit.

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What the heck is up with that Wal-Mart? I think they overdid it just a bit.

They really wanted to do the whole "make the facade look like many different stores" thing

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that was required by the planning commission. it has the near-term effect of seeming less monolithic, which is perceived to have a negative effect on pedestrian activity.... but it is also expected to help with mitigation if the walmart closes... as the building can be divided more easily.

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that was required by the planning commission. it has the near-term effect of seeming less monolithic, which is perceived to have a negative effect on pedestrian activity.... but it is also expected to help with mitigation if the walmart closes... as the building can be divided more easily.

It's less monolithic, but it looks ridiculous. :rolleyes:

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It's less monolithic, but it looks ridiculous. :rolleyes:

yeah, the wal-mart is freakin ugly. i am afraid the leaders of wal-mart nor it's patrons will never get it. that includes me. i don't like the mcdonaldization of our culture even if its taking the place of a blighted empty box. i would rather see another strip club. not really. i just see this area as a recyclization of the way it has been all my life. 10-20 years from now... same blighted empty box... just less monolithic.

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there are no yuppies shopping on wilkinson blvd. :)

:rofl: I could just see muffy and biff coming in from myers park or ballantyne to shop wilkinson boulevard. Sometimes it feels like the only "real" parts of charlotte left are on the West and NW sides.

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:rofl: I could just see muffy and biff coming in from myers park or ballantyne to shop wilkinson boulevard. Sometimes it feels like the only "real" parts of charlotte left are on the West and NW sides.

haha Muffy and Biff? dude, it's not 1985 anymore lol

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haha Muffy and Biff? dude, it's not 1985 anymore lol

It was late, I couldnt think of any other yuppie sounding names :lol:.

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yeah, the wal-mart is freakin ugly. i am afraid the leaders of wal-mart nor it's patrons will never get it. that includes me. i don't like the mcdonaldization of our culture even if its taking the place of a blighted empty box. i would rather see another strip club. not really. i just see this area as a recyclization of the way it has been all my life. 10-20 years from now... same blighted empty box... just less monolithic.

i'm actually surprised that you guys think it is ugly.

I personally do not like a few features of the design... for one, the street with trees along it through the parking lot isn't lined up with the entrance or any other feature of the building... i also don't like that the center section with the walmart sign and awnings doesn't have a doorway into the building.

But given that this is a formula big box store, i think there are many positives to this design over most any other walmart i've ever seen...

1) the parking lot has a grid of regular streets with trees, making it less like the typical suburban asphalt-sea, making it more pedestrian-friendly, and if the walmart closes down, it makes it easy to subdivide into parcels.

2) different colors and variations in the facade make it look a lot better and more interesting and of a more human-scale

3) just the fact that it is built means retail, jobs, and economic activity on the westside. absolutely nothing happened with the ugly empty big box stores that were on that land but closed up shop 20 years ago.

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