I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but Charlotte, but there’s no denying that what Charlotte lacks relative to more established cities is a unique identity forged in history and tradition.
While a city’s identity is something that grows organically over the years, developed slowly by the citizens and their common interests, I do think there’s opportunity to “prime the pump” and borrow some ideas from other great US cities. A few weeks ago, I wrote here about four half-baked ideas to turbo-charge the development of Charlotte’s unique identity (part 1). While those are still cooking, I dug deep into the pantry and threw together four more:
(1) Declare pimento cheese and fried pickles the official food of Charlotte.
All great cities have a food they are proud of and that is strongly associated with the city itself. Deep Dish Pizza, Sourdough Bread, Cheesesteak. I don’t even need to say what cities those are associated with because you already know. Charlotte needs a food that is ours and has that association with the city. It doesn’t even need to have been invented here, it just needs to be available virtually everywhere, and the citizens need to take pride in it.
The idea is that when someone from out of town visits, they need to be met with a chorus of “oh, before you leave town, you have to make sure you have XYZ”. It needs to be offbeat (you can’t just say “hamburger” or “steak”), memorable, and above all delicious. Therefore, I propose that the city of Charlotte make an official declaration that fried pickles and pimento cheese are the official foods of Charlotte. Choose one day a year that is a day we celebrate these foods. Local vendors should be encouraged to sell Pimento Cheese Pizza or Fried Pickle Hot Dogs. JJ’s Red Hots is way ahead of the curve by the way.
(2) Establish Elizabeth Avenue between Commonwealth and Hawthorne as Charlotte’s “Rooftop District”.
Reminiscent of 6th Street in the Austin where nearly all of the bars/restaurants have rooftop seating, this area would be where you’d go to dine and drink al fresco and watch the sun set behind the Uptown skyline. There are empty lots between City Bagel/Crown Station and the row of shops with 1900 Mexican Grill, The Spoke Easy, Passion8 and Carpe Diem.
The city should make a requirement of any development in this area that there be rooftop restaurant/bar space. You’d get a great view of Uptown, and it would feel very old-school urban as you look down on the passing streetcar. There is even precedent for this idea that could possibly help with zoning any new buildings that pop up along that area. The now-defunct Loft 1523 used to sit above what is now 1900 Mexican Grill and had a popular terrace that featured a view of the skyline.
(3) Turn the NASCAR Hall of Fame plaza into a “public” beer garden for local sports viewing.
Let’s face it; compared to expectations, the NASCAR Hall of Fame has been a failure. Half as many people have passed the turnstiles as expected. The city had to give the Hall of Fame about $5 million and its creditors forgave almost $18 million in loan interest and principal. Suffice it to say, NASCAR and its “Shrine to Itself” owe the city a favor.
So that’s why I say, in a show of good faith, NASCAR should pay to enlarge the screen that sits outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame to a mammoth outdoor TV (I’m thinking 150 ft x 40 ft should cut it) and designate the massive front patio as an outdoor beer garden. Then, show sporting events for Charlotte area teams on the big screen so that you can have a massive local crowd watching sports all at once. What I envision is those large outdoor parks that are set up for World Cup games, but for Panthers or Hornets games, or even a series where you watch Knights games.
The building as it stands now is virtually useless to the majority of new Charlotte residents who have no connection to NASCAR, so put it to work. It’s a cool space and fantastic location; the inside just isn’t the draw it was once thought to be. The only downside is we might rip a hole in the space/time continuum if that Prudential Commercial with the giant dominos that was filmed there is shown on the screen.
(4) Have a contest for local musicians to create a song for Charlotte, and commission its production.
Charlotte needs a song. Every great city has a song. Chicago has “Sweet Home Chicago”, LA has “Free Fallin’”, Boston has “Dirty Water”, New York has “New York, New York”, Atlanta has the entire Outkast catalog.
This song doesn’t have to be any particular genre of music but it does need to be an ode to the city and focus on the themes of what makes Charlotte great like basketball, barbecue, and the promise of the “New South”. It needs to have a catchy, noticeable tune, as opposed to a slow drawn-out ballad. It should be upbeat enough to be played after Panthers, Hornets, and Knights victories. Again, genre matters way less than that the song is accessible and catchy. The song would need to be written by an established area musician (looking your direction, Kellie Pickler), but in a perfect scenario, the city would put an open call out to all local musicians, with the prize being the studio time to record an album that featured the song.
In this perfect scenario, the songwriter would be a local, previously-unknown talent that is unearthed because they poured their love of Charlotte into a sonic masterpiece, launching a meteoric rise to musical superstardom, but they would never forget their humble beginnings playing the Charlotte bar circuit. Did I just write a treatment for an Oscar-winning screenplay? I think I did.