Rendering of a new vision for the Main Library uptown. Snøhetta - for illustrative purposes only
Rendering of a new vision for the Main Library uptown. Snøhetta - for illustrative purposes only

Politics & Government

A vision to redevelop North Tryon centers on a $93 million new library

By Steve Harrison and Ely Portillo

sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

March 14, 2017 6:53 PM

Imagine a new $93 million main modern library in uptown Charlotte with new office and apartments nearby.

That’s the plan to transform the area around Sixth and North Tryon streets that got generally favorable reviews from Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday afternoon.

The lynchpin of the plan is rebuilding the Main Library, at North College Street and East Sixth Street.

Lee Keesler, chief executive of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, told commissioners that this would be the fourth major rebuild or renovation of the library, which opened in 1903. The most recent project was in 1989, when the Main Library was expanded and renovated.

“But this is a very different time for libraries,” Keesler said. “We love our library, and it’s given us a lot of great library history. But it does have some shortcomings 30 years later.”

He said it lacks technology infrastructure as well as meeting space. The vision, he said, is for a more modern library that resembles a high-rise.

“We want a space that’s more welcoming, with more glass,” he said. “In Boston they have a library with a studio on the ground floor, they have a cafe. We want to create an ImaginOn for adults,” he said, referring to the uptown children’s library.

Commissioners did not vote on the plan, which still must be presented to Charlotte City Council. Funding for the plan wasn’t discussed Tuesday, but it would likely be a mix of public and private dollars.

In addition to replacing the library, the plan calls for refurbishing McGlohon Theater, renovating the Hall House apartments and adding new housing, offices and retail.

The plan is meant to stimulate growth and development on the north side of uptown, which has lagged the southern end of Charlotte’s center city since the recession. While more growth, such as the new SkyHouse apartment towers, has taken off in recent years, the most intensive development has clustered around South Tryon Street and Stonewall Street, running along uptown’s southern edge.

The complex Sixth and Tryon plan would require cooperation among property owners Bank of America, the county, city of Charlotte, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Charlotte Housing Authority, as well as the private developers and financing sources needed to pull off the plan. It covers the two city blocks totaling more than 6 acres and bounded by Sixth, Tryon, Eighth and North College Streets, about half of which is currently occupied by surface parking.

The hope is that these two blocks would serve as a catalyst for redeveloping much of the rest of the surrounding area. There are also plans afoot to remake Discovery Place and the Carolina Theatre. The Main Library has been at its location, 310 North Tryon St., since 1903. The current building dates to the 1950s and was expanded and renovated in 1989.

In addition to the new library, here is what the plan for Sixth and Tryon could entail:

▪ More affordable housing, and housing for senior citizens (125 units of “workforce affordable” housing, typically reserved for people making 80 percent of the area’s median income, and 120 age-restrict housing units for senior citizens).

Many of commissioners’ questions focused on housing.

▪ More market-rate housing (380 units total).

▪ A renovated McGlohon Theater.

▪ On The Charlotte Housing Authority-owned parcel, now home to Hall House and mostly occupied by a parking lot, a major new development with a refurbished Hall House, a new, 16-story residential tower and an 18-story office tower.

▪ Up to 60,000 square feet of new shops and restaurants, spread over several new buildings.

▪ Office space could total 575,000 square feet, spread over at least two new buildings.

▪ Some 750 new parking spaces to serve the developments, in underground garages and one above-ground deck.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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