Thursday, November 30, 2006

REALLY big changes coming

The changes going on in uptown Charlotte are much bigger than the focus of my last blog entry, the EpiCentre: $4.7 billion in development is either proposed or underway, and the EpiCentre is just one of 15 residential towers planned for inside the 277 loop.

I gained a fuller appreciation of all of the happenings after Moira Quinn, senior VP of communications for Charlotte Center City Partners, shared a presentation this week showing, block-by-block, just how many new things are in the works.

I’ve followed each individual project as columnist Doug Smith or my other colleagues have reported them, but it’s something else to see them all lumped together.

In First Ward, there’s developer Daniel Levine’s plan for a mixed-use village and open-air market spanning the area from the county-owned Hal Marshall Center on North Tryon to Dixie’s Tavern on Seventh. In Second Ward, there’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the edge of the Metropolitan development on the former Midtown Square site, with condos, a Target and Home Depot Expo store.

In Third Ward, there are plans for a complicated land swap to build a minor-league baseball stadium and county park, surrounded by development. And in Fourth Ward, local entrepreneur Noah Lazes is planning a 30-acre entertainment district on former mill property near the Brookshire Freeway.

And those are just the highlights. It took Moira a full hour to describe everything.

Uptown, which was a wasteland after 5 p.m. not so long ago, now has 11,600 residents, projected to be 15,000 by 2008. Along with the new condos are coming new bars, restaurants and entertainment for that growing population.

Retail stores, other than the big ones at the Metropolitan, are slower to come. But plans are in the works to lure more.

What’s on your wish list for uptown? What’s not yet in the works that we still need? Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Big changes in uptown

Anyone who spends any time in uptown Charlotte knows the centerpiece of our region is undergoing big changes, and some of the biggest are at the EpiCentre development taking shape at College and Trade streets.

Yesterday at the monthly meeting of neighborhood group Friends of Fourth Ward, I gleaned a few new tidbits about the project, consisting of a 52-story high-rise condo tower topping 267,000 square feet of dining, entertainment and shops:

--The condo tower is 80 percent sold, but some one-bedroom floor plans and all of the two-bedroom floor plans are still available.

--Prices run from the $400’s to $5+ million for the penthouses, and homeowners’ association dues will amount to 30 cents per square foot per month.

--The restaurants – many of which were recently announced – and other entertainment venues will be arranged in an open-air setting with cobblestone streets and gas lanterns.

--There will be about 2,000 public parking spaces for the attractions; the condo tower has its own parking with one space allotted per bedroom and some additional guest parking – the exact amount is still being worked out.

--A movie theater in the project will have eight screens showing first-run movies, answering a longstanding need in uptown entertainment. The developer hasn’t yet determined which company will operate the theater.

--The first phases of the dining and entertainment are scheduled to open next summer; the condos are scheduled for mid-to-late 2008.

As for Fourth Ward, a great chance to explore the neighborhood is coming up this weekend with the 29th Annual Holiday Home Tour. Tickets are $20. It runs Friday from 5-9 p.m. (watch for carolers roaming the neighborhood that night); Saturday 5-9 p.m. and Sunday noon-4 p.m. Residences ranging from new condos to historic Victorian homes will be on the tour.

Full disclosure: I lived in Fourth Ward for three years – in the Frederick Building on North Church Street – and have always considered its home tour to be a must-see. (More about the neighborhood here).

I find myself fascinated by the many high-rise condos going up around uptown, in the EpiCentre and elsewhere, and I’m wondering whether they appeal to newcomers – especially those from larger cities.

If you’re a relative newcomer – two years or less – who has considered buying or bought in one of the towers, I’m interested in hearing from you. As for the rest of you, what do you think of the proliferation in high-rise living in uptown? Is it long overdue or too much of a good thing?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Home for the Holidays

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday - especially Matthew Caporale and Laura Ragonese, transplants from the Northeast who decided this year for the first time that Charlotte is their true home.

If you missed their story in yesterday's paper, click here.

Good luck to everyone as the holiday shopping frenzy begins. Newcomers, don't forget to send me your questions about the community - I'll try to answer them in a future column.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Talking turkey

Here's a question: Why don't we eat turkeys regularly outside of Thanksgiving and one or two other selected holidays? I don't mean sliced on a deli sandwich, but roasted in an oven.

When I talked to Bob Ford of the N.C. Poultry Federation for today's column on the importance of the turkey industry here, he said consumers haven't adopted turkey outside the holidays, despite its proven health benefits.

I know it's time-consuming to roast it yourself, but if consumers were bigger fans, I'm sure we'd see them in grocery stores beside the stacks of pre-cooked rotisserie chickens. Most people seem to find turkey pretty tasty and of course we all love eating the leftovers, right?

Here's a link to today's WCNC report on the turkey industry. And click here to go to the Q&A with Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis for any other turkey-cooking inquiries.

And have a happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is Charlotte your home?

I heard an interesting question from a newcomer yesterday: When do you start identifying Charlotte as your true home?

When transplants first move to Charlotte, they tell everyone “I’m from Ohio” or California or Pennsylvania or wherever they moved from. And they tell people from other cities, “I’m from Charlotte but I’m originally from.....”

When does that stop happening, and when does it become simply “I’m from Charlotte”?

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to pose this question. Among the hundreds of thousands of transplants in the region are probably a good number of families who have decided for the first time that “having Thanksgiving at home” means having it here in Charlotte.

I’m looking for families who are doing this – people who have decided just this year not to travel somewhere else for their Thanksgiving meals, but instead plan to host it in their homes here, perhaps inviting family members to travel in from elsewhere.

If this applies to you, I’d be grateful if you’d e-mail me at

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My first real paper route

I always thought filling the newspaper with information every day was the hardest part. Now, I have newfound respect for those who get it to your doorsteps and driveways.

By now, readers are well aware of the freak power failure that caused more than half of our readers, including all of those in Charlotte, to miss getting their papers this morning. When an appeal went out asking for volunteers to deliver the belatedly printed papers around midmorning, I wanted to do something to help.

I made my way to a distribution center and discovered that step one was rolling and bagging the papers. I was paired with John McBride, one of our news systems analysts and a fellow volunteer equally unfamiliar with our delivery system. The bagging in itself was surprisingly difficult – the narrow bags used for our papers most days proved a tight fit, since our papers were wider than usual because they came from a substitute printing press, so we used the wider bags made for Sunday papers.

Then we piled them into the backseat of my car – they formed a slippery avalanche we had to quickly slam the door on – and set out to navigate the streets of the neighborhood we both call home, Elizabeth. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

First off, we tried delivering to the addresses on both sides of our busiest street on the route, Seventh. As cars roared up behind us, we crept along looking for the right house numbers, eventually both hopping out of the car to find the appointed homes on foot.

As we turned deeper into the neighborhood, we figured out that it made more sense to go up one side of the street and down the other, but throwing papers from the car was still a challenge. I always thought the expression “throwing like a girl” was sexist, but well, I learned I throw like a very girly girl. John had to hop out of the car and re-deliver most of my pathetic tosses.

And then there were those extra-wide bags. We discovered that if you give them a particularly hard heave-ho toward a front porch, the papers can easily slip out of them, causing their sections to drift slowly down onto the recipient’s front lawn like some kind of pitiful bird.

We discovered house numbers can be extremely difficult to spot, that trees can form a daunting obstacle course in front of a house, and that it’s really hard to make the paper land where you intend it to be. So, to all of those Elizabethans who discovered their newspapers in their ivy or bushes or dangling from the edges of their stairwells today, I apologize.

Those of you who only read our news online may not understand what the big deal is, but a couple hundred thousand people out there still treasure the experience of unfolding the day’s news on paper and savoring it at the kitchen table or on a porch swing or a comfy couch. Apparently, most of them called to complain when they didn’t get theirs today, so I’m glad my company is doing what it can to make things right for them.

I’m going to be giving my paper carrier an extra-big tip this year.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Would you pay $3,200 a month in rent?

When it opens to the public Thursday, Charlotte's new Crate and Barrel store will be the latest addition to the ever-changing SouthPark mall. But what I'm really waiting for is the opening of the building under construction beside the store - four stories of luxury apartments atop more stores and restaurants, scheduled to be complete in April.

It's going up on the corner of Sharon and Morrison roads. For years, that spot was empty grass except when it was home to the Summer Pops concerts of the Charlotte Symphony and the holiday tree-lighting at the mall each Thanksgiving. The opening of Symphony Park behind the mall has moved those events, and the new development seems to be a positive addition to the area. But I'm really curious to know who's going to be paying those luxury rents - averaging $3,200 a month.

Here are links to this morning's WCNC report and my column on the development. What are your thoughts on that rent figure? Does it make sense to pay that much for a prime location next to a luxury mall? Let me know.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Off to Asheville!

This weekend is the Asheville Film Festival. I can’t think of a better place to be with temperatures so balmy and the vestiges of autumn leaves still on the trees.

That’s one of the assets of Charlotte that newcomers often cite – easy travel times to beautiful locations in both the mountains and at the coast. Asheville is always a fun visit, whether or not a festival is going on, because of its beautiful scenery and great shopping, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Another positive thing about this region is its strengthening interest in independent film. From the historically strong film community in Wilmington to the nationally-renowned Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham each spring to the two recent film festivals here in the Queen City – Charlotte Film Festival and Cackalacky – the Carolinas’ film offerings are continually broadening.

A good local spot to check out for film happenings is the Light Factory, a museum of photography and film housed at Spirit Square. Click here.

And it's not too late to buy tickets for screenings at the Asheville fest - click here. Maybe I'll see you there!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Day to bring out new voters

Election Day is Tuesday, and newcomers will have a big chance to impact local elections.

Given the number of people moving to this region from other states, a mix of new political affiliations and philosophies means the
local races may be hard to call.

I’m working on an article about the impact of newcomer voters for tomorrow's paper; if you’re someone who moved here and registered to vote after Jan. 1 2005, and you’re available to talk before 5 p.m. today, please drop me a line.

Meantime, here are links to today’s WCNC report and my column with some voting tips.

TUESDAY UPDATE: The article about new voters ran in today's paper; here's a link. Thanks to those who got in touch!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting around much?

If you’re a newcomer, do you get out much to explore this region? Or do you stick close to home?

I posed that question last weekend, and many new arrivals weighed in. While lots of people find this region confusing to get around in, most said they’re determined to see what it has to offer.

Here’s a sampling of responses; more will appear in tomorrow’s New Home section of the paper:

“As a newcomer, I think it is important to explore the entire area as much as your time will allow.” --Mark Peterson, Ballantyne, moved from Greenwood, S.C. 13 months ago

“We definitely have no problem driving anywhere from 25 - 45 minutes to see or do something that we’re interested in – the only exception being restaurants. There are so many to choose from right here in our area that we don’t see the need.” --Erica Stewart, east Charlotte, moved in January from Fayetteville

“At first when we moved here, we were overwhelmed finding our way around. After two weeks, we both went out and bought a GPS. Even though the streets change constantly because of new construction, we can always find our way to any destination and back home. It has made me feel unafraid to go anywhere. It is well worth the investment.” --Jackie Ellis, Pineville, moved from California two years ago

“In the first weeks we were here we went to the Blues, Brews & Barbecue Festival, a jazz festival, a Labor Day parade in Matthews, the Levine Museum of the New South and a Latin festival, all in downtown Charlotte. We had no idea where we were going most of the time, but we followed the directions on our map and found everything. We also attended some neighborhood evenings of music in the local shopping centers.

It is so easy to get comfortable in your own surroundings, but look at all that can be enjoyed if you decide to drive around to see the sights and sounds outside your own neighborhood.

Tell your new readers to get out there and enjoy!!!” -- Dee Shuffl, moved to Charlotte from Albany, N.Y. in August

“We retired when moving here, so day trips or just getting out for a few hours is great. We've driven to Salisbury, Kannapolis, driven to the wineries in Yadkin Valley (great wineries we might add). We've gone to Pineville, driven to Lake Norman, Mooresville, Davidson, Asheville, Concord.

Living in Charlotte makes getting around so easy, either through Interstate 77or 85. But taking some of the back roads makes the ride more interesting, especially with the leaves changing.

The only problem I see with driving in Charlotte is all the Nascar wannabes – driving way too fast and tailgating if you are doing the speed limit!” -- Bonny and Dominick Salmeri, newcomers from Florida