The Rise and Fall of Eastland Mall: Lost Treasure of Charlotte, NC

The Birth of Eastland Mall

In the mid-1970s, a significant development reshaped the retail landscape of Charlotte, North Carolina. The city witnessed the inauguration of Eastland Mall in 1975, a shopping center that was not just another addition to the city’s infrastructure but a landmark that would leave an indelible mark on its history.

Eastland Mall was not just a shopping center but a testament to the city’s growth and development. It was the largest mall in North Carolina then, a title that added to its allure. The mall’s grand opening was significant, with thousands of people from all over the city and beyond flocking to explore the new retail space.

The mall was unique in many ways. It introduced a food court concept to North Carolina, a novel idea quickly gaining popularity. The food court became a social hub where families and friends gathered to enjoy a variety of cuisines.

Another unique feature of the mall was an ice skating rink, a rarity in shopping malls, adding fun and excitement to the shopping experience.

The Golden Years

The period from 1975 to the late 1990s marked the golden years of Eastland Mall. During these years, the mall saw significant growth and expansion. New stores and renovations were added to keep up with the evolving retail trends and consumer preferences.

However, the late 1990s brought about demographic shifts and changes in retail trends that began to impact the mall’s foot traffic. Despite these challenges, Eastland Mall continued to serve as a significant retail center in Charlotte.

During this period, the mall began to decline gradually, a trend reflective of the broader changes in the retail industry.

The Decline and Closure

The dawn of the new millennium marked a challenging period for Eastland Mall. The once vibrant and bustling hub of retail activity began to experience a downturn. Several factors contributed to this decline, transforming the mall from a popular shopping destination into a symbol of changing times.

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw increased crime rates surrounding the mall. This increased crime deterred shoppers, leading to a decline in foot traffic. The mall’s reputation suffered, and it began to lose its appeal to shoppers and retailers.

The departure of anchor stores further worsened the situation:

  • JCPenney in 2002
  • Dillard’s one level in 2005 and second level in 2008
  • Harris Teeter in 2006
  • Belk in 2007
  • Sears in 2009
  • Burlington Coat Factory in 2010

These stores, which had once attracted many shoppers, began to close their doors. The loss of significant retailers left a void in the mall traffic, increasing vacant storefronts.

The mall’s financial health also took a hit. Revenue began to decline, making it increasingly difficult for the mall to maintain its operations. Despite efforts to sell or redevelop the mall, these attempts were unsuccessful. The mall’s financial struggles culminated in foreclosure action, marking a low point in its history.

In 2010, the once-thriving Eastland Mall closed its doors for the last time. The closure marked the end of an era and significantly impacted the local community. The mall, which had once been a bustling hub of activity, now stood empty and silent.

The Aftermath and Future Plans

The closure of Eastland Mall left a significant void in the Charlotte community. However, the city was determined to revitalize the area and breathe new life into the vacant property. In 2012, the City of Charlotte purchased the entire mall, including some outlying properties, for $13.2 million.

The city had several potential redevelopment options, including hotels and specialty shops. One studio, Central Avenue Studios, expressed interest in purchasing the entire property for the film uses and as a film school in conjunction with local education institutes like Central Piedmont Community College, Queens University of Charlotte, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

However, in 2013, the city council voted to spend $800,000 to demolish Eastland Mall. The demolition began on October 1, 2013, with the Burlington Coat Factory Store being the first to be torn down. The demolition marked the end of an era but paved the way for new beginnings.

In 2016, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools acquired 11.4 acres of the site from the city for $650,000 to build a school. This transaction left the city with 69 acres of property.

The city government has plans to leverage this land to stimulate neighborhood redevelopment, with a vision of creating a mixed-use district that includes housing and offices.

By 2022, development had commenced on 39 acres of the land, featuring 155 single-family residences and townhouses, 280 units for multiple families, 17,500 square feet of commercial and office space, and a five-acre park managed by Mecklenburg County.

The plan for future development phases includes the addition of a grocery store. As of June 2023, the city council is considering two proposals to utilize the remaining 30 acres.

One proposal is for a 115,000-square-foot indoor sports facility featuring an outdoor soccer field, a playground, and a jogging trail. The second is an outdoor sports facility, including six multi-use athletic fields with a 20,000-square-foot Esports center and event space.

The redevelopment of the Eastland Mall site represents a new chapter in its history. While the mall may no longer exist, its legacy shapes the community’s future.

The Impact on the Community

The history of Eastland Mall reflects the broader changes that have taken place in Charlotte over the years. The mall has seen periods of prosperity and decline from its grand opening in 1975 to its closure in 2010.

Throughout its operation, Eastland Mall significantly impacted the local community and economy. It provided jobs, attracted visitors, and served as a gathering place for locals. Its closure left a void in the community that has yet to be filled.

The proposed redevelopment plans have the potential to bring about positive change. The new development could attract visitors and stimulate the local economy by focusing on sports and entertainment.

However, the impact of these plans will largely depend on their implementation and the community’s response.

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