Mar 4, 2022 - Business

Atrium unveils a new historically-rooted name and brand for its Charlotte innovation district

Charlotte medical school

Rendering courtesy Atrium Health

Atrium Health announced Thursday that it’ll call its new innovation district and medical school campus “The Pearl.”

Why it matters: The Pearl is a nod to Brooklyn, the Midtown neighborhood where Atrium and Wexford Science & Technology are building the new district that’ll house the Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte.

As Atrium developed plans for The Pearl, community members have advocated for project leaders to acknowledge the history of the land. They’ve also voiced concerns about the development’s effects on surrounding communities — specifically, displacement of existing residents and businesses.

Flashback: Brooklyn was once the largest Black neighborhood in Charlotte. Within it, Pearl Street Park was the first park built on land the city purchased for Black residents.

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, the city leveled Brooklyn, a thriving Black business and residential district, in the name of “urban renewal.”
  • The city’s decision displaced approximately 1,000 families, per Atrium. More than 200 businesses and 12 churches were destroyed.
  • The county spent years restoring Pearl Street Park, and it reopened earlier this year.

Go deeper: Neighbors worry about ripple effects of Atrium Health’s Innovation District

“It’s critical that we recognize the rich history in which our innovation district lays down roots,” Atrium president and CEO Gene Woods told reporters. “We’re here to begin a new chapter.”

Atrium says it is working to form a community advisory council to address community concerns. Atrium will have more on that in the coming weeks, said Hillary Crittendon, operation lead for the innovation district.

The intrigue: After Atrium announced the new branding, social media users were quick to point out the similarities between the branding of The Pearl and Pearl Dentistry in Charlotte.

What they’re saying: Design elements of The Pearl tie directly to Atrium’s Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, noted Atrium spokesperson Brian Hacker. The P in “The Pearl,” Hacker added, closely resembles the design of the IQ, which has been established for more than two decades.

  • “While the dentistry operation is clearly using the pearl analogy for teeth, The Pearl is used as a historical reference and tribute to the community it serves,” Atrium spokesperson Brian Hacker told Axios.

Yes, but: Pearl Dentistry owner Jenny Gandhi hadn’t seen the new innovation district logo until Axios asked her about it.

  • “I’m not too bothered by the name but the logo being so similar is a bit odd. I’m surprised they’d do that,” Gandhi said.
Pearl Dentistry in Charlotte (Axios file photo)
Courtesy of Atrium Health
Courtesy of Atrium Health

Background: Last year, the city and county approved incentives totaling $75 million for the innovation district. It will break ground in the third quarter of this year.

Among other features, the district will include:

  • Four towers.
  • Retail space for restaurants and other businesses.
  • An education building (The Howard R. Levine Center for Education, which will house the school of medicine, Wake Forest University School of Business, Wake Forest School for Professional Studies, and Carolinas College of Health Sciences.)
  • Up to 1,000 apartment units.
  • Up to 600 hotel rooms.
  • Parking garages with 2,000 spaces combined.
  • Public outdoor space.
Courtesy of Atrium Health
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