Nov 5, 2015 - News

Insight: This is why the Carolina Theatre renovation works



Last week, the initial plans for the Carolina Theatre renovation project were put out there and the overall reaction was less than enthusiastic. I heard everything from “it looks like a museum” to “well, this is another example of Charlotte-izing an opportunity” (in reference to taking history and turning it into a shrine of modernism and glass).

I won’t lie, at first I was also on the fence, leaning towards disappointment. The initial renderings (which I was later to learn were concept only) showed a beautiful old-school concept that would bring the theater entrance directly to Tryon Street. This plan was always conceptual and just to get the ball rolling.


I spoke with Laura Smith, executive vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas who helped give me some context around the plans. I warmed up to them and now accept and appreciate it for what it is: A way to showcase the old theater, provide civic space to the community and extend the foundation’s role and outreach in the community.


One of the major complaints was the fact the the plans call for what essentially amounts to a giant lobby covered in glass. I hear those and was one of the biggest complainers myself. Massive waste-of-space lobbies are a plague in this town and while they’re not necessary for office towers, they are necessary for a theater. The theater doesn’t have a lobby in its current state, so there was a need to provide one. I personally would have preferred to have seen a restaurant take up some of the space, but I understand the need for a lobby.

Along those lines, there is a “catering” area built into the lobby which Smith said is being explored to be used as a “concept kitchen” or café, amongst a variety of uses.

Another complaint was the boring emptiness of the renderings that came out. Glass walls showcasing blank walls and a historic theater entrance. I should have known the foundation (who commissioned a theater mural by Hooker & Moore along 6th Street and it is just brilliant) wouldn’t leave the walls blank. Sure enough, Smith assured me there would be plenty of decorations along the interiors.


The plot next door (with the Main Library) is also up for redevelopment soon (no details on that yet, but it is actively being worked on) and part of the idea was to open the lobby up to the surrounding area rather than close it off.


Something else that is missing in the initial renderings is the streetscape. Those big beauitiful trees on Tryon and the benches aren’t going anywhere and contributed to the façade looking rather lifeless. We have to remember these streetscape components will blend into the completed project.

The box office will be along 6th Street along with the potential hotel’s pickup and dropoff. Speaking of the hotel, we are looking at something that can be up to 150 rooms and potentially 13 stories. Word has it there are two hotel brands left in the running and they should complement the project nicely, adding a tower aspect.

The theater itself will be restored to its original form, creating a Mediterranean atmosphere with Tuscan paintings, intricate architecture and of course, a massive red curtain. The theater will play host to a variety of events like comedy shows, TED talks, and other civic events. Due to a lack of a staging area, it will not host Broadway-like productions. There’s even talk of showing movies and sporting events there. This would be awesome, think horror movie marathon in the fall or perhaps even Panthers games?

The materials and finishes being used in this project are top notch as well. They never thought they could fully achieve the authentic design they wanted pulling the entrance out to the street, so they chose their best direction which was providing what is needed and showcasing the historic façade.

Charlotte is rather well known for destroying its history and this is an example that does something different. Not only does it blend modern design (I don’t really think glass is going to go out of style), it saves the history and restores it to its original wonder. I am excited to see this project develop and they are hoping for a 2018 completion.

Furthering the development along the North Tryon corridor is necessary and this project is just another small step in a much larger plan. The first draft of North Tryon vision plan will be shared with the community on the evening of Thursday, November 19 at UNC Charlotte Center Campus. The event begins at 5 p.m. with program beginning at 6 p.m.

(Photo credit: Foundation for the Carolinas)


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