Apr 16, 2024 - News

SouthPark wants to be a "park-once" neighborhood

rendering of enhanced streetscape along Carnegie Boulevard

Conceptual rendering of how Carnegie Boulevard could be improved for festivals and other events. Courtesy of SouthPark Community Partners

SouthPark wants to become a place where you rarely have to move your car.

Why it matters: The upscale south Charlotte neighborhood was largely built in the '70s as a car-first, retail destination.

  • Planners today envision SouthPark becoming the blueprint for transitioning suburbia into a walkable community, with a mix of uses and lively public spaces.

Driving the news: SouthPark Community Partners (SCP) has released "The SouthPark Vision Plan." It lists more than six dozen projects, from park renovations to new trails, that could be executed over the next decade.

  • SCP is spending $1 million over the next three years to jumpstart projects and prove its commitment to the vision.
  • The area's municipal service district tax generates around $1.6 million annually for the two-year-old new planning organization.
  • The recommendations comprise $250 million in public and private projects.

The big picture: The vision leans into what SouthPark stakeholders are already doing. Just look at the mall. Despite shopping trends moving online, it's one of the area's strongest assets. (SouthPark's retail vacancy rate is less than 1%.)

  • People are coming for desinations like Suffolk Punch's patio, the plaza and playground — and staying to spend money in the businesses.
  • By encouraging a similar mix of uses across the whole neighborhood, SCP expects to be able to lure companies and help the retail scene thrive.

Flashback: Before SouthPark mall opened in 1970, the area around it was a dairy farm for decades. It'd take an hour on horseback to reach the city center.

  • For years, downtowns were where people shopped — Belk and Ivey both had stores in Uptown. But people flocked to the suburbs after World War II, and so did retailers. The area around SouthPark was developed with cars in mind.

Here are three highlights of the plan:

1. Becoming Charlotte's model of mobility

By 2035, office workers, residents and shoppers should only have to park their cars once a day. Instead of driving around, they could walk or take alternate transit modes around SouthPark's one-square-mile commercial core.

Here are some of SCP's ideas for how to get there.

  • Shared parking: The plan encourages property owners to open up underused parking to multiple uses. SouthPark's largest parking areas total 30,000 spaces, covering 4.3 million square feet and comprising 16% of the commercial core.
  • Free shuttle service: Once parked, people might soon be able to take a shuttle. Over the holidays, SCP ran an experimental and successful free shuttle. There were requests to bring it back.
  • Bikeshare: Riders could rent bikes daily, weekly or monthly.

The plan pictures SouthPark as Charlotte's first-ever "Mobility Innovation District" — "a place for us to try new technology, learn from what works and what doesn't, and then figure out what successful initiatives can scale city-wide," Adam Rhew, president and CEO of SCP Partners, tells Axios.

2. Reimagining Symphony Park

Rendering of park
Conceptual rendering of a reimagined Symphony Park with a connection to the SouthPark Loop and water feature. Courtesy of SouthPark Community Partners

For years, people have imagined a makeover of Symphony Park so it could be used beyond concerts.

  • That means continuing SouthPark After 5 concerts but also making it usable for yoga classes, farmers markets or relaxing on a nice day.
  • This vision plan might revive the momentum behind the long-desired project to get designs finalized. The renovations would likely require a public-private partnership.
  • The plan pitches extending the renovations down Carnegie Boulevard. The street could close during events and fill up with food trucks and public art.

3. More walking routes, fewer dead ends

The three-mile SouthPark Loop, central to the vision, will change the way people travel around SouthPark.

  • "Pockets of development that have occurred ... over SouthPark's history are disconnected," Rhew says. "You'll see people walking their dog or going for a jog ... on short little segments, but it's hard for people to envision this seamless pedestrian experience right now."

SCP is prioritizing finishing the first contiguous mile of the Loop, from Cameron Valley Parkway to Symphony Park. People will then "see what's possible in a more walkable SouthPark," Rhew says.

  • The timeline will depend on how quickly real estate can be secured and how soon the money is raised.
  • The full three-mile alignment is 8% complete today. Another 17% is in planning.

Another byproduct of a neighborhood built around cars: SouthPark has a lot of dead ends.

  • A map within the plan circles spots where it would be relatively simple to pave a path, so residents can reach businesses more quickly on foot.
  • They're calling these connections "living ends."
  • "A family could cut their walking trip in less than half by being able to follow one of these living end connections," Rhew says.
southpark charlotte north carolina
Courtesy of SouthPark Community Partners

The bottom line: There are no clear timelines and only rough cost estimates for the projects.

  • "Energy and resources should flow to the projects that have the greatest momentum, funding opportunities, and engagement," the plan states.

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