Somehow we’ve ripped through 20 of these things (Vol. 1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5), and there are still a few ideas to toss in the wood-fired pizza oven. From the feedback I’ve received, you guys are fans of the half-baked ideas concept. If you like these Charlotte-specific ideas, the originators of the Half-Baked Ideas construct have many (non-Charlotte-specific) ideas on the Grantland network in podcasts from a few years ago. Check them out, they’re so good. I’ve always been partial to the idea of business bye weeks. It makes too much sense.
And now let’s see how these Queen City Idea Biscuits are coming along:
(1) Grant permits to put bodegas at Light Rail stops
I used to take the light rail into work from South End. It’s super convenient. When the stars aligned I could get from my apartment to my desk in Uptown in 12 minutes. Fantastic. However, sometimes I’d miss a train and have to wait, or I’d otherwise have some downtime where I’d think “man I’d love a coffee right now.” I’d briefly consider walking from the East/West station past The Liberty, across South, and up to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a coffee, then trek all the way back. Needless to say, I never did that because it’s a terrible idea.
But my problem would be solved if the city allowed bodegas to set up at certain light rail stations. Nothing fancy, just a small stand that served coffee, gum, magazines, maybe sunscreen and accoutrements like that. Having these stands would make Charlotte feel considerably more urban, plus it would provide a valuable service to the handful of us out there who might enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning.
Want to give this idea some political juice? Restrict the permits to set up shop to minority entrepreneurs or veterans and hook them up with SBA loans and mentorship to get started. The city gets a good talking point about how it spurs economic development, a deserving businessperson gets their start, and I get my coffee. I really don’t see a downside.
(2) Put a Fountain at Trade & Tryon
This is sort of part two of an idea from the original post to close off The Square as a pedestrian walking mall. In addition to permanently shutting down Trade and Tryon to vehicle traffic, I say put a fountain where the intersection is right now. Model it after the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Create some tradition around it like throwing change over your shoulder (maybe throw in a penny behind your back in an homage to Muggsy Bogues?). Instead of assorted Roman gods and goddesses, the statues could be imagery of a hornets nest, King Hagler, and Captain James Jack.
If you shut down Trade and Tryon to vehicle traffic and install a fountain, Charlotte earns a signature landmark, as well as a perfect place for performers and merchants, and even another great place to eat lunch when the weather is nice.
(3) Real-life Tony Hawk Pro Skater in Overstreet Mall
Hear me out on this one because it’s a stretch. The Overstreet Mall has its pros and cons. It’s fantastic for Uptown workers during lunchtime, especially when it’s raining or extremely hot outside. You’re protected from the elements and there are a bevy of dining and retail options. But that protection of being indoors also means there is no street facing retail out on Tryon and College, which means the Overstreet Mall sits dormant during non-working hours, and that’s a shame. Hold that thought for a second.
If you aren’t familiar with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game, then congratulations for having lived a more vibrant life than me. I spent more hours in the early 2000s than I’d like to admit playing this video game, in which you guide your skater through various geographies performing skateboarding tricks along the way. The game took you through many different cities. A friend of mine navigated his way around Fisherman’s Wharf the first time he visited San Francisco based solely on knowledge he gleaned from the game. Embarrassingly, this game makes you change your perspective on how you see real life situations, as you begin thinking about the skateboarding tricks that Virtual You could perform on that real-life escalator. I’m not proud to admit this.
My wasted youth aside, this is my proposal: have an event in Overstreet Mall and tout it as Real Life Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Competitors begin at Founder’s Hall and perform tricks throughout the hallways, using various escalator rails and other obstacles along the way*, ending outside at Wells Fargo Plaza (the fountain would be a great finish line). The event would be timed with judging and awards for number and difficulty of tricks. The point of this would be to bring people into the Overstreet Mall during the weekends, hopefully opening the eyes of those who don’t see it during the week to what it has to offer. Essentially you’d want folks to say “Oh wow, I didn’t realize there was an Uncle Maddio’s and a Brad’s in Uptown,” which hopefully would spur more foot traffic that could push Overstreet Mall businesses to keep some weekend hours.
Told you guys it was a stretch.
(4) Put a Belk in Uptown
This is almost completely out of the city’s control, especially with the recent acquisition of Belk by private equity group Sycamore Partners. Those guys aren’t exactly in the business of frivolous spending for the greater good. In fact, that’s exactly the opposite of the business they are in, but I think in this case there might be room for an exception. The story of Charlotte and the Belk company are very intertwined, and Belk’s flagship store played a large part of Uptown’s history, with its location on Trade and Tryon serving as a mainstay from 1909 until 1988, and an “express” store that operated in the Overstreet Mall from 1993 until 2009.
So I say, let’s bring Belk back to Uptown. As mentioned above, street level retail is woefully absent inside the 277 loop, and the goodwill the Belk brand has with the citizens of Charlotte is certainly worth some portion of the roughly $3 billion pricetag that Sycamore Partners doled out in its acquisition. Brick and mortar retail isn’t exactly a hot business to get into right now, but I think that if done right, and with the right incentives, a flagship Belk could bring elements of the past to Uptown in a way that works for everyone, even profit-minded private equity groups. I’d love to see it go on Trade Street between Poplar and Graham, which is a dead zone begging for some sort of retail along a possible future streetcar line.
What are your half-baked ideas for Charlotte? Share them with us through the links above or on Twitter!
*yes, yes, insurance and liability nightmare, blah blahblahblahblah BobLoblaw
(Photo credits: Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission)