A little over a decade ago, uptown Charlotte was a bustling banking center by day that grew quiet once workers went home for the day.
You could walk the length of Tryon Street after 5:30 p.m. on Friday and find little to entertain you, or even keep you around. A lot has a lot changed since then — with new bars and restaurants making uptown a later-night draw for both visitors and local residents.
But a destination for your holiday shopping, like ‘the old days’? Not exactly.
Or just not yet, perhaps, according to Chris Hemans, the Director of Retail for Charlotte Center City Partners. He says the next 10 years will bring a shift in uptown shopping.
“I think retail dreams will be realized,” Hemans told Adam Williams on the new “Retail Redeveloped” podcast, a series of conversations about how brick-and-mortar buildings are adapting to welcome new shoppers in a world that has been moving increasingly online.
You can listen to Williams’s entire conversation with Hemans about uptown’s “retail renaissance” here: https://soundcloud.com/retailredeveloped/retail-redeveloped-chris-hemans
Hemans tells Williams that while life has returned to uptown after hours in the form of entertainment and even residential living, more can be expected.
“There’s lots more for us to accomplish in this great city, especially as we look at retail and some of the retail needs we have in the uptown and SouthEnd area,” he said.
It would lead to what Hemans calls, “a complete uptown.”
Hemans studies what other cities do to have vibrant downtowns full of culture, entertainment, and residential living space. He calls active retail the “missing piece” of the puzzle in uptown Charlotte.
“When you look at uptown, that’s where we struggle,” he said. It is the piece that Charlotte is now engaging to be “complete.”
Hemans points to cities like New York, Chicago, and even Greenville, South Carolina, as examples to follow. The office towers in the two larger cities include street-level retail, while Greenville made good use of its smaller, vacant spaces in downtown to partner with developers to bring in nationally-known stores.
He sees the tide turning in uptown Charlotte, where bank buildings dominate the skyline — and their lobbies have traditionally offered nothing but grand entrances to the floors above. That’s changing. The new 300 South Tryon with the Kimpton Hotel is one example.
“It was built in the right way,” says Hemans, pointing to the building’s major corporate tenant, a hotel, a rooftop bar, and a lobby that includes retail stores. Others large buildings around uptown are making room in their giant, open lobbies to do the same.
“That retail space now tends to define the building,” said Hemans, noting that people are now referring to buildings by what popular restaurant or store faces the street.
So what can we expect next? Start looking south — to Stonewall Street, says Hemans. The current patchwork of constructions projects and parking decks will transform into the next cool thing.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said, calling it the next destination for visitors to Uptown. “We create a dynamic, cool boulevard that become another place in Charlotte that you have to go to when you visit.”
The vision for Stonewall street is to create a place that blurs the line between uptown’s corporate image, and SouthEnd’s “cool factor.” Hemans noted that many young, uptown workers walk home to apartments in SouthEnd — and spend their money there.
“How do you keep people in uptown a little bit longer?” he asks.
Retail. Ah, retail.
Give uptown workers cool places to hang out — in uptown.
“We need to support our local retailers,” said Hemans. A series of pop-up shops during holidays have created opportunities for local businesses to “test the waters” in uptown, and then the quest is on to find those businesses permanent space. Over three years, the effort to grow pop-up shops have led to a growth in retail, says Hemans.
It’s one more step to completing the puzzle as uptown Charlotte grows over the next 5-10 years.
“I see immense growth, I see great opportunities, and I see us being able to fulfill the retail dreams that we have for uptown and SouthEnd,” said Hemans, as he envisions the sound of cash registers joining the clinking of drink glasses after dark.