Eastland Mall—with its million square feet of retail space, four anchor stores, and beloved skating rink—was the crown jewel of Charlotte commerce and the heart of the east side from its opening in 1975 to the mid-1990s, when high crime in a declining area began to repel shoppers and merchants. Sears, the last major anchor, shuttered in 2009, and the nearly empty mall closed for good the following year.
The city bought the 80-acre property at Central Avenue and North Sharon Amity Road in 2012 and demolished the mall in 2013. For years, city officials entertained one eccentric proposal after another for the site: a film and television production studio; a skate park with a wave pool; a mixed-use idea from an architect in Chile.
Nothing took root until November, when the City Council unanimously approved a proposal from the real estate investment company Crosland Southeast. The mixed-use project includes features that residents of surrounding neighborhoods like Winterfield and Wilora Lake said they wanted: retail and office space for jobs, shopping, and community services; sports fields and buildings the local community could use; housing; and public and park space to encourage residents to spend time there. The second act of the Eastland site “has literally been a decade in the making,” council member Matt Newton, whose District 5 includes the property, said in November.
This seems like a good opportunity to review Eastland’s history and reorient ourselves toward a plan that’s finally in place. “This project, I believe, will provide the kind of impact necessary for that community to thrive,” council member Malcolm Graham said after a presentation in October, adding that he has fond memories of working at a menswear store at Eastland during the mall’s heyday.
So what happened to the MLS headquarters plan?
City officials blanched at the proposed $110 million public outlay and negotiated with Tepper Sports for a more modest commitment: $35 million—$10 million for the Eastland site, $25 million for soccer-related improvements to Bank of America Stadium and parts of uptown. Also, under the original plan, “You were ending up with a lot of land that wasn’t necessarily open to the public,” Tracy Dodson, an assistant city manager and the city’s economic development director, said in October. “So this, in my mind, is a bigger win for helping Eastland come to fruition in the vision that everyone has.”
Why did Crosland Southeast sign on as the project’s developer?
Since the 2014 Chetty study that ranked Charlotte 50th of 50 large American cities in upward mobility, the company has sought to develop real estate in ways that make sense economically and benefit the city, too, says Tim Sittema, the Crosland Southeast managing partner who’s overseeing the Eastland development. The 80-acre Eastland site is large enough, and in an area projected to grow enough, to hold community assets like green space, small businesses, and affordable housing units even as it offers a return on the company’s investment. Those factors “gave us the confidence to pursue that site,” Sittema says. “It’s a call to action: How can the business community lean into some of these intractable social problems and make a difference here?”
EASTLAND: A Timeline:
1972: The city and Mecklenburg County approve a rezoning of the property for development as a mall.
July 30, 1975: Eastland Mall opens at 10 a.m. “In shopping-center-crazy Charlotte,” The Charlotte Observer notes, “the event was something like a Woodstock for the suburban set.” First-year sales are approximately $65 million.
1997: A tenant sues mall ownership, claiming a 40% decline in sales: “(B)eginning in 1992 and continuing thereafter, numerous criminal incidents at Eastland Mall occurred and the general unacceptable behavior of people at the mall was allowed to exist and grow.”
1998: Eastland Mall Associates sells to Glimcher Realty Trust for $54 million.
1999: Concord Mills opens.
2002: J.C. Penney, one of Eastland’s four anchor stores, closes.
2007: Eastland’s Belk anchor closes. The Urban Land Institute, which the city has asked to assess Eastland’s future, recommends demolition and redevelopment of the site as a mixed-use urban center.
2008: Dillard’s Eastland anchor closes. Glimcher Realty Trust defaults on its $42 million mortgage.
2009: Sears’ Eastland anchor closes.
June 30, 2010: Eastland Mall closes.
2012: The city buys 80 acres of the mall property and issues requests for proposals for a film and TV production studio, then enters negotiations with a local production company.
2013: Mall demolished.
2014: The city scraps the film and TV studio plan.
2016: The city sells 11 acres to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a K-8 partial magnet school.
2018: The city selects Crosland Southeast as the site’s master developer. Crosland begins to examine the site and consult local residents.
2019: Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper announces plans to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Charlotte. Included in Tepper Sports’ deal with the city is a proposed $110 million in city hospitality funds for the team’s headquarters and practice fields at the old mall site.
2020: The city approves an altered plan to reserve the eastern portion of the site for Tepper Sports to lease for its MLS youth program headquarters and fields, and the rest of the property for housing—including affordable units—a community atrium, a park, and office and retail spaces.
2022: Tepper Sports and Entertainment pulls out of the planned Eastland project; a spokesman said the construction posed “challenges” that compelled the company to look at other sites for its practice fields and youth program. Crosland Southeast breaks ground on a planned $175 million, mixed-use development it expects to complete in 2027.