First Ward Park is open. Here’s what’s next for the neighborhood

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After a decade of planning and construction, First Ward Park is finally set to open to the public today. The park is a jewel, and it’s going to be a huge draw especially when spring rolls around and the trees and flowers are all in bloom.

(Want to go to the unveiling? There will be music, hot chocolate and park tours from noon until 6:30 p.m.; samplings from 7th Street Public Market from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the holiday lights will be turned on around 5:15 p.m. Details.)

Some highlights of the park include the great lawn, the elaborate rock formation water feature, an indoor space for events and the circular pond. First Ward Park will be decked out in LED lights that can be programmed to be all sorts of colors. Once the light rail extension comes through, there will be a stop on each side of the park, making it accessible to a broad swath of the city.

It’s the type of place where national TV broadcasts will go to get film to show during breaks in the action. And how about that skyline view?

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Daniel Levine and Levine Properties built the park as part of a partnership with UNC Charlotte (which has a campus adjacent to the park) and Mecklenburg County.

It’s the first step in a $700 million plan in place for the 24 acres Levine owns in First Ward. Levine’s been assembling the land for some three decades, and acknowledges that he’s heard from people who ask what’s taken so long.

“You have to develop when it’s your turn,” Levine told the Agenda in an interview. And now it’s his turn, he says.

City leaders are hoping the park’s opening will give some momentum to the remaining projects that make up the First Ward redevelopment. There aren’t firm timetables yet for construction and opening for them, but here’s a look at the next dominoes to fall. The list leaves out several potential future developments, like Block 42 (the light blue parcel on the map below, currently on the market).

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

(1) Apartments and parking deck

This is the other piece of the public-private partnership. Levine’s in line for a tax grant of $23.5 million after delivering the parking deck and at least 1,335 public spaces. Several hundred of them are dedicated to UNC Charlotte, but the rest will be accessible. The project has been held up by a financing issue with the university (UNC Charlotte is supposed to kick in about $4 million and hasn’t yet) but Levine said he’s hopeful that will be resolved as soon as this week.

Apartments will almost completely wrap the parking deck. On the one exposed side — which faces the freeway — artists will be brought in to design something to cover it.

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

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Image via Levine Properties

(2) Dual-branded hotel

This will be a Homewood and Canopy between 7th and 8th and Brevard and Caldwell (bottom left of the map above). Underneath will be four floors of underground parking, about 1,200 spaces. Both hotels will be in one large building, with the lobbies on opposite sides. On all sides will be some type of residential, whether it be condos or apartments.

(3) Dixie’s Tavern renovation

Everyone knows this as Dixie’s, but the formal name is the Philip Carey Building and it’s a historic landmark. The building has gone through an extensive renovation, with a passage through the middle and big glass everywhere. The entity that’s taking over the space has sworn everyone to secrecy and will be making its own announcement soon. UPDATE: This was announced Tuesday to be the new home of Google Fiber in Charlotte.

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

(4) Market Street

This is going to be a brand new street that extends out from where ImaginOn is now. It will be able to handle two-way traffic, but will be set up to close down for events. The street will have electric and water hook-ups perfect for food trucks without the loud rumble of a gas generator.

(5) Office tower

Levine is still on the hunt for an anchor tenant for the building, and said construction could start as soon as eight weeks after one is found. The building will have a massive retail space on the bottom floors and reach 20 floors with 325,000 square feet total.

The design below is subject to change. Should a tech firm decide to make the building its headquarters, they could want a more cutting-edge design.

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

Image via Levine Properties

Cover image from Levine Properties

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Andrew Dunn
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Editor-in-Chief