Gastonia Mayor Walker Reid III remembers working in a ghost town.
During his 23 years with the Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal's Office, he saw uptown Charlotte transition from empty storefronts to a residential, business and entertainment hub. "I was working in the 700 block of North Tryon [Street], and I could get in my car at 5 o'clock, hit every light, and get to Morehead Street in no time," he says of the job he held until 2009. "When [department stores] Belk and Ivey's left, it was empty."
At this time, a mall in the suburbs was the place for shopping and entertainment. In Reid's hometown of Gastonia, Eastridge Mall drew in shoppers with a movie theater, Morrison's Cafeteria and stores. "I think it's [been] the trend where malls suck the life out of downtowns, and now it's that downtowns suck the life out of the malls," he says.
Eastridge Mall opened on former dairy farm land in 1976, anchored by Belk, J.C. Penney and Ivey's department stores. Dillard's, which acquired Ivey's, now operates a clearance store at the mall, while the J.C. Penney store closed in 2017. Sears also operated a large store at the mall from 1998 through 2014. Since 2013, the mall has been owned by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based CityView Commercial.
While the mall has seen stores leave over the last several years, officials are banking on a proposed $150 million overhaul with family-oriented activities, new stores, restaurants and apartments, hoping it will breathe new life into the shopping center. Construction is expected to begin in the second or third quarter of 2020 and will include an 800-space parking deck.
US Developments, a Charlotte brokerage-management development firm, has the task of taking Eastridge's massive parking-lot area and remodeling it into a crowd magnet. Company CEO and President Stephen Rosenburgh calls it a "reimagining."
Part of Rosenburgh's business identity is providing solutions to "distressed real estate assets." He says Eastridge fits that description.
"It is distressed. And because it's distressed, the big thing is to bring in these additional users who will be part of the mixed-use development," he says. "We're talking to people, but we are still working on our master plan. You have to bring all the pieces together and make sure they fit; like, you may have entertainment like a bowling alley, but you don't want it next door to a movie theater. The pieces have to fit together. It's a little like an...