Many Charlotteans fondly remember shopping at Eastland Mall, once the largest mall in North Carolina. When Eastland opened on July 30, 1975, thousands of people from Charlotte and the surrounding area flocked to shop and explore the new mall. Today, if you were to look at the intersection of Central Avenue and North Sharon Amity Road in Charlotte, you would see a site under construction where Eastland once stood. The Charlotte City Council is working with developers to determine the best action for the Eastland Mall site, now called Eastland Yards. Both the City Council and the residents of East Charlotte want the space to be a place for community like it once was.
From its opening in 1975, Eastland Mall was the place to be; with over one million square feet of retail space, a person could spend hours exploring. Eastland had three of the most popular anchor stores a mall could have in Belk, J.C. Penny, and Ivey’s. Eastland was unique for a mall; it had Ice Capades Chalet, an ice-skating rink in its center, and two stories of stores. Not to mention, Eastland had a movie theater and first-in-mall food court on the East Coast, a feature uncommon in malls at the time but a very welcome draw for Eastland. Charlotte was experiencing rapid growth, and Eastland was a product of that growth. Eastland stayed a popular destination for shoppers, attracting new stores and renovating to keep current.
In the early 1990s, the demographics were beginning to change around Eastland Mall, as more affluent people began to leave the area due to the congestion caused by the mall’s development. According to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, this shift also brought about a rise in residential rental properties. When people passed or moved out, many properties became rentals, some of which became permanent rentals via Section 8.
Section 8 is a federally subsidized housing program that gives rent vouchers to low-income families. Some landlords will not invest in the maintenance of their properties, and some will only rent to people with Section 8 because it is guaranteed income. The growth of rentals and Section 8 housing had a destabilizing effect on the community surrounding Eastland and impacted shopping centers. In areas with large groups of low-income residents, there is often not enough disposable income to warrant shopping and support the commercial growth of a place like Eastland.
Crime began to rise in the late 1990s, sales began to slow, stores began to close, and foot traffic began to slow for Eastland. Belk closed in 2006. John Belk, former Mayor of Charlotte and Chairman of Belk, who was present at the opening of Eastland, noted that “the culture and the demographics have changed since we opened here… Eastland is going down.” Eastland lost revenue, so they had trouble maintaining their operations. Eastland Mall officially closed in 2010 and was purchased by the City of Charlotte in 2012.
The city demolished Eastland in 2013 and sold 11.4 acres to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2016. Before development began, the community used the space as an open-air market and a skate park. The market provided a source of income for hundreds of local vendors. The Eastland open-air market was closed when development began, cutting off a considerable source of income for vendors. The market has found a new home, which is now called “El Mercadito,” located at 1720 Galleria Boulevard.
City officials are committed to redeveloping the space and have received proposals from various developers. Crosland Southeast will serve as the Master Developer for the 69-acre site. Crosland Southeast has partnered with Eastland Community Development, Odell Architects, and the City of Charlotte to get necessary community feedback for the project. Currently, Eastland Yards is roughly 80 acres planned in four areas.
The first area is a mixed-use space that will be residential and retail. Ground was broken on that portion of the project in August of 2022. The second area is the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS), which has an already up-and-running bus facility on site. Area three is Mecklenburg County Park, on roughly 4.6 acres. The final area is a 29-acre parcel of land dubbed “The Complex.” This new multipurpose facility has space for indoor and outdoor activities. There will be six soccer fields and the ability to host tournaments, an ice rink, a gym, and a STEM education and eSports Center. The Complex is open to the community for gatherings. There will be art and entertainment, as well as restaurants and retail. The city has agreed to give up to $30 million to reimburse expenses. The Complex is the product of community input and countless hours of planning and comprises city officials and developers.