Dec 3, 2023 - Business

Is Uptown Charlotte back?

Uptown Charlotte. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Walk through Uptown, and you’ll notice a few things you might not have seen three years ago. Office workers stepping out for a quick lunch, forming lines at sandwich shops. Car horns blare as traffic backs up for entire city blocks. Hardly an open parking spot in sight.

What’s happening: After a pandemic slowdown that emptied office towers and forced countless businesses to close, Uptown is bouncing back. Or at least, that’s how it feels to many employees and visitors who spoke to Axios.

By the numbers: Uptown is about 74.5% recovered in terms of foot traffic compared with 2019, per data from the University of Toronto‘s Downtown Recovery project, Axios’ Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

Why it matters: The central business district is a city’s economic heart. Uptown for years leading up to the pandemic had been growing denser and busier, thanks to more office workers, major entertainment events and a growing number of local businesses opening up.

  • Post-pandemic, that vitality now seems to be returning.

The big picture: While business travel hasn’t quite recovered to its pre-pandemic levels, leisure travel to Charlotte has surged, bolstering Uptown’s recovery, city boosters have said. Major events — from a Beyoncé stadium concert to college football games — have drawn thousands who filled hotels and restaurants.

  • In Uptown, there was about a 40% lift in hotel occupancy and a 26% lift in rates on concert nights compared to the average hotel performance over the prior six months, per data from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. 

Uptown may never look exactly like it once did, says Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, an arm of the city that promotes growth in Uptown and surrounding neighborhoods.

  • But the area may look better, he adds. And it’s recovered better than its peer cities.
  • “It is not our aspiration to become the city that we were. It’s our aspiration to be the best Charlotte that we’re becoming,” Smith says.

Of note: Charlotte had a record year for all its venues in 2022, from Spectrum Center to Bank of America Stadium, according to the CRVA.

Clemson and Georgia fans pack into Romare Bearden Park Saturday ahead of the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in 2021. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

What they’re saying: Evelyn Harris, who works in banking Uptown, has been back in the office five days a week since mid-2021. She tells Axios she’s seen a “tremendous change” in the area in recent months.

  • “The somber air of [post-COVID] Uptown is more upbeat now. More faces in the corporate offices, smiles on the street, people dressing more casual, seeming happier and comfortable,” said Harris, who moved to Charlotte from New Jersey in early 2016.

Perhaps an indication of hope for the future of Uptown, a number of highly anticipated restaurants and retailers have either opened or will open locations in Uptown.

Monarch Market’s main entrance is through Lanai Terrace Bar off Tryon Street. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
  • Joe and Katy Kindred, the husband and wife duo behind the beloved Kindred restaurant in Davidson, are opening two restaurants in Uptown at the new Duke Energy Plaza: a fine-dining restaurant called Albertine and a third location for their all-day cafe, Milkbread.
  • Sweetgreen, the national salad chain with a cult following, is opening at Trade and Tryon next year.
  • Paper Skyscraper, a beloved local boutique, recently opened a pop-up location on South Tryon. It’ll remain there indefinitely if this “test run” is successful.
  • Monarch Market, a new food hall, recently opened at Trade and Tryon.

Between the lines: The marketing agency Chernoff Newman this year cited the emergence of hot new spots like Monarch Market in its decision to move its headquarters from SouthPark to One Independence Center, at Trade and Tryon. “What attracted us to uptown was the visibility, energy and vibrance of being in the center of commerce and culture,” Carrie McCament, the firm’s CEO, told CBJ.

Yes, but: The pandemic did take down a few favorite restaurants that didn’t return, including Queen City Q and the uptown location of J.J.’s Red Hots.

The bottom line: Chaz Hinkle, who works at Duke Energy and is in the office Uptown five days a week, says Mondays and Fridays can feel a little slow in Uptown, given how many still work from home those days.

But Tuesday through Thursday, he adds, are busy.

  • “Lines at Reid’s and Rhino Market, lots of people on the sidewalk. My litmus test for normality is how much people complain about 1) their commute and 2) parking. Both of those things seem to be back to the way they were, especially mid-week,” Hinkle tells Axios.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Charlotte stories

No stories could be found

Charlottepostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Charlotte.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more