Jan 31, 2023 - Development

CATS says underground transit center is most secure design, eliminates street-level option

CTC redevelopment CATS Charlotte Area Transit System two-level terrace option

The two-level terrace option for the Charlotte Transportation Center redevelopment. Rendering courtesy of CTC

Editor’s note: On Jan. 31, the Metropolitan Transit Commission voted in favor of the below-ground “concourse” option for the Charlotte Transportation Center redevelopment.

Charlotte is moving forward with plans to rebuild its Uptown transit center underground and has eliminated a street-level hub as an option.

  • A third alternative — to rebuild the Charlotte Transportation Center on two levels with a ramp — is still on the table as well.
  • The CTC operates as a central location for bus route transfer, where the Gold Line and Blue Line intersect, near the Epicentre.

Why it matters: After pitching an underground multimodal hub, and hearing some resistance from city council, Charlotte Area Transit System continued exploring two other options. Now the agency is still leaning toward its below-grade plan, which it says would work best to “activate” the street frontage with retail and offices as part of a public-private partnership with developers.

What they’re saying: “Really, it just comes down to a conversation of trade-offs between the two that we have left,” CATS planning director Jason Lawrence told Axios.

  • CATS has collected feedback from around 400 riders at the transit center. It’s asking respondents to prioritize elements such as natural light (which would be better above ground) and air conditioning and heating (which would be better below).
  • So far, the below-ground option has a “slight edge” over the two-level one, Lawrence says.

Catch up fast: The CTC redevelopment is part of a private-public project between CATS, White Point Partners (the developers behind Optimist Hall) and out-of-state firm Dart Interests. When it opens in 2028, the new transit center will be integrated into a mixed-use tower erected on the existing CTC site, with a hotel, commercial uses and possibly a new Hornets practice facility.

[Read more: Charlotte leaders weigh putting new transit center above or below ground]

CATS weighed the pros and cons of all three options.

Designs for an underground CTC, an option CATS calls “concourse,” are advancing.

  • The concourse would be the most secure, Lawrence says. “Watching one level is easier than, say, watching two, as far as staffing, as far as the number of cameras, number of security personnel,” he adds.
  • Yes, but: Council members have expressed concerns that moving operations “in the basement” would exacerbate already high crime rates.
  • Lawrence does not think bus riders are the source of the issues. “Our transit customers are there to go to the transit center, and they are there to transfer between their buses and go home or go to their job or whatever they’re doing throughout the day.” He says an improved design, with easy-to-patrol spaces, would fix current problems.

Plans for a two-level CTC, an option referred to as “terrace,” are being refined.

  • There would be six bays (where buses park) on the street level and eight bays on an upper level, in line with the Blue Line.
  • Although CATS prefers the direct reach to the light rail, the terrace has a big con: The structure would cross over 4th Street and take up a portion of a parcel, owned by White Point Partners, that it wants to use as a temporary transit center during construction.
  • White Point Partners’ control of that land is a major reason the transit agency chose the firm as a partner, CATS leaders have said. CATS is now looking at refining this design to fit it on one block.

CATS has decided not to pursue another street-level CTC. This would have been “basically, the transit center as it is today with a building on top of it,” Lawrence says.

  • CATS determined that a rebuild of the CTC would not solve the problems it wants to address: A lack of security, more exposure to the weather and unsafe pedestrian crossings.
  • Plus, if buses filled the block, there would be no space left to “activate” Brevard and Trade streets with businesses and offices.

Of note: CATS hasn’t detailed the cost difference between the options.

Zoom out: CATS was created in the ’90s with the vision to marry transit and land use planning. Although city leaders have said that this is a “transit project first,” the agency want to take advantage of the opportunity to spur economic development and enliven a block of uptown where there’s already billion of dollars worth of infrastructure investments.

Details: Since its first in-person meeting on the CTC redevelopment had low turnout, CATS is hosting an extra event to collect feedback on the remaining two designs. The meeting is Thursday from 6:30-8pm in the Belmont Regional Center on Parkwood Avenue.

Timeline: Construction on a temporary CTC would start in 2024, then the build-out of the permanent CTC would occur between 2025 and 2028.

What we’re watching: CATS is presenting an update on the project to Charlotte City Council in November. Lawrence says all stakeholders should feel comfortable with the selected option before the project moves forward. But the last few times CATS addressed city leaders on the underground redevelopment, it took some heat, including a question about a potential conflict of interest. The developers could push for the CTC option that most benefits its own interests, WFAE noted.

  • Some council members also urged CATS recently to look outside of Uptown for the new CTC location. According to CATS, 30% of respondents said they preferred spots outside of Uptown, including SouthPark and Eastland. Lawrence says CATS is considering that chunk of respondents as it works on future transit plans and decentralizes its bus network. CATS is reducing the number of bus bays at the CTC from 22 in the redevelopment.

Also, CATS CEO John Lewis is resigning at the end of November. In the past, he has seemed steadfast in working with the developers on this redevelopment. We’re watching to see if his departure makes any difference in the future of this project.

concourse option CATS CTC redevelopment
The concourse option. Courtesy of CATS
concourse option CATS CTC redevelopment
The concourse option. Photo courtesy of CATS
Charlotte Area Transit System - City of Charlotte
Terrace option. Courtesy of CATS
Terrace option. Courtesy of CATS
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