Here’s one bold idea that could change Charlotte forever

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Charlotte, as cities go, is about as bland as the lobby of a bank. Nice generic art, plain design, no color and clean.

I’ll take the clean part – not too many cities in the country are as clean as Charlotte for sure. But can’t we make the place a little more exciting?

A few years ago, Charlotte landed the U.S. National Whitewater Center, one of the coolest things this city has added in years and something that makes us unique.

whitewater-center-charlotte

It’s time for us to be bolder. Much bolder. How much bolder, you may ask? And with whose money?

Here’s my proposal: We should build the biggest ______ in the world – the blank can be filled in later. An example could be a Ferris wheel or a the tallest structure on earth with a restaurant at the top.

It sounds a little silly, I know. What’s the purpose? How does this help the people of our city? In short, the only purpose is to inspire awe and joy. Nothing more. Other than a few skyscrapers, Charlotte doesn’t exactly inspire awe.

charlotte-skyline

I’ve harbored this idea for years – building something in Charlotte that’s relatively pointless, but as big and bold as possible. When I first proposed it, I was laughed at by two people who shall remain nameless (my brother and dad).

“Why don’t we just flood the streets of Charlotte and become the Venice of the South?” they asked.

The mockery was palpable. But isn’t it true that many of the best and boldest ideas have been mocked and laughed at in the early stages, and then applauded and revered when they came to fruition? As Mark Twain said, “The man with a new idea is a crank – until the idea succeeds.”

Think about it. Other cities have iconic structures they are known for. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Toronto has the CN Tower, London and Las Vegas have huge Ferris wheels and Seattle has the Space Needle.

High-Roller-ferris-wheel

seattle-space-needle

Why not Charlotte? How cool would it be to have a tower constructed on the west side of the city – the largest in the world – surrounded by a park and maybe amphitheater?

The world will always know Charlotte as the city with that ridiculously tall structure. People would extend their layovers by a few hours just to take the elevator to the top for a quick selfie. We’d be in the record books. People all over the world would know Charlotte as the stuffy banking city but with a crazy side.

In short, it would be great marketing for our city. But how to pay for something that would cost $300 million or more?

We could pay for it with a temporary sales or tourism tax. However, in this political climate where the word “tax” is synonymous with “Satan,” that probably wouldn’t fly. And it probably shouldn’t. After all, this is a crazy dream – a luxury and add-on – not a civic necessity like schools and roads.

That means it would have to be done with mostly private funds. I’ll be the first to chip in $100, but it’s going to take more than just a Kickstarter campaign. We would need to pull out the big guns for this – the One Percenters.

I would start with Charlotte’s billionaires: C.D. Spangler, Bruton Smith and the Levine family. Together, these three families are worth somewhere between $5 billion to $10 billion dollars. Surely they could pony up the money to build this, right?

How does one convince a billionaire to donate millions of dollars toward a project that returns little if anything on their investment? It probably wouldn’t be easy. But it can be done. We would appeal to their sense of wonder, their civic pride, their penchant for bold ideas and desire to be the billionaire with the biggest.

We could also give them a nice plaque with their names on the side of whatever structure is built if that would help.

If I was an odds-maker, I’d give this idea about a 5 percent chance of happening. Billionaires don’t like to part with their money. But billionaires are also visionaries. Look at all the amazing projects around Charlotte with the Levine name – Levine Cancer Institute, Levine Children’s Hospital, Levine Museum of the New South. Most ultra rich people do want to leave something behind when they’re gone. Few can match the Levine family’s efforts.

Could they be convinced to build the Levine Tower of Peace on Wilkinson Boulevard?

Charlotte will survive without hatching my far-fetched plan. We’ll go on building new skyscrapers, sub developments and mixed-use projects. A few of you who’ve read this far are probably having a good giggle about now.

Let’s dream really big, and really crazy in Charlotte for once. Let’s be the little city that said, “Screw it, we’re doing something that no other city has ever done before.”

Our city might still feel like a bank lobby, but it will be one that no one will ever forget.

(Photo credit: CN Tower via Dennis JarvisWhitewater Center via Jeremy ThompsonCharlotte Skyline via John AshleyHigh Roller via Daniel RamirezSpace Needle via Maelick)

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Tim Long
| @TimLongCLT
Writer, avid golfer and political junkie who's chronicled the Charlotte area for more than 10 years.