May 5, 2023 - News

Charlotte could become an open-container city with Uptown, South End applying for social district status

You may soon be able to carry open containers of alcohol through the streets of South End and Uptown.

Charlotte Center City Partners confirms to Axios it has submitted a pre-application with the city to establish social districts. It will continue talking to stakeholders, including property owners and local businesses, while working on the full application.

Why it matters: Social districts are designed to enliven streets and boost support for local businesses.

  • “We’re really excited about it,” says Rick Thurmond, chief marketing officer at Charlotte Center City Partners. “For Uptown and South End, there’s incredible potential for placemaking.”

What they’re saying: Josh Patton, CEO of Wooden Robot Brewery, says a social district would help his and others’ businesses by drawing more folks out. “That would be something that I think we’d definitely get behind,” he says.

  • There’s also a chance it could encourage more ride sharing and alleviate ongoing parking concerns in the neighborhood, Patton notes.
  • But, the “devils in the details,” he adds. South End lacks public gathering spaces. There will need to be a cautious effort to dissuade people from walking into establishments with other businesses’ drinks.

“We are committed to working with our partners to design the safest, most impactful social districts possible,” Thurmond says.

Catch up quick: A North Carolina law passed in 2021 allows cities to create “social districts,” areas where people can take drinks in labeled cups to go.

  • The City of Charlotte expected multiple business districts to be interested in social district status, which is why it’s taken nine months to compile guidelines and standards for social districts into a 12-page document. Meanwhile, other much smaller cities have moved faster.
  • Plaza Midwood Merchants Association and Gilde Brewery in Lower South End have also submitted pre-applications in Charlotte. (Gilde Brewing did not respond to Axios’ request for comment. WSOC’ Joe Bruno reports it paused its application to wait for nearby development to finish.)

Go deeper: Charlotte trails other cities in allowing drinking in the streets in ‘social districts’

The intrigue: Raleigh, Birkdale in Huntersville and most recently Gastonia have joined the growing list of places already running social districts in North Carolina. Charlotte still doesn’t have one, and some people are losing patience.

Yes, but: A new application from Charlotte Center City Partners could restore excitement in the social district idea. The organization is focused on developing and boosting economic activity in Uptown and South End.

  • “Luckily, we are set up to do some of this work,” Thurmond says. “But it’s also a new thing. So every time you do something for the first time, it takes longer.”

Details: Charlotte Center City Partners still has outreach and planning work to do before it can finalize an application.

  • That work includes mapping out the proposed boundaries. It could create separate districts, for example, or find a way to connect the two, possibly through Mint Street, Thurmond says.
  • “We want to make sure that we do it right,” Thurmond says. “At this point, the boundaries are kind of fluid. We just have a lot more stakeholder engagement to do around this.”

Between the lines: One of the extra rules the city created requires applicants to obtain signatures from at least 51% of property owners within the district.

  • For the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association, this amount of homework poses a challenge. The volunteer board needs to collect around 120 signatures. To do that, it must mail notices to 200 addresses and hope the recipients don’t toss it as mistaken junk mail, member Russell Fergusson tells me.
  • The boundaries of the Plaza Midwood social district will be intentionally extensive, possibly stretching from Morningside Pub to Two Scoops Creamery. “We’re not really activating pedestrian networks if you can’t actually walk anywhere,” Fergusson says.

Of note: Per the city’s rules, released in March, the to-go cups must be reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.

What’s next: City council will vote to adopt the districts once the final applications are ready.

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