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Charlotte Group Eying New Greenspace in RailYard

Charlotte Group Eying New Greenspace in RailYard

Charlotte Group Eying New Greenspace in RailYard

A century old rail yard used in Charlotte’s early industrial days is being positioned as Charlotte’s own version of Central Park.  Once upon a time, North End was considered the outskirts, and the neighborhood’s focus was manufacturing. Textile mills sprang up near the rail yard so that they could have easy access to transport their goods by train.

Many believe a rail yard is not the best use of that real estate with the current rate of development.

A consortium of architects, developers, and attorneys are proposing turning the rail yard property into a 220-acre park. That’s roughly a quarter the size of Central Park in Manhattan, and more than twice the size of Freedom Park in Dilworth. Charlotte’s current most prominent urban park, Romare Bearden in Uptown, is 5.4 acres.

Currently, the land belongs to Norfolk Southern, so a deal would have to be made to access the private land.

Queens Park, the site’s proposed name, would be the area bordered on the west and east by North Tryon and Brevard streets, then Matheson Avenue and 16th Street to its north and south.

Supporters say it would be a way to connect neighborhoods, a great opportunity to introduce more green space and plan for the future growth of Charlotte in that direction, and one day provide a vast staging ground to host major events.

Odell, a local architecture and engineering firm, and Tony Kuhn of the Flywheel Group have been working together to determine how the park would be laid out.  Odell and Kuhn envision vast stretches of trees, gardens, and pathways. Like other urban parks, Queens Park could include a music venue and art installations.

Also working on the effort is Eric Spengler, a local attorney with Spengler & Agans, PLLC, who recently formed a nonprofit called Friends of Queens Park LLC.

The biggest hurdle to overcome is that the land belongs to Norfolk Southern.  Shannon Binns, CEO of Sustain Charlotte, has been advising Friends of Queen Park. Binns says since the rail yard is privately owned, the city and county could work on some sort of land swap with Norfolk Southern to turn it into public space.

That’s what happened in Greensboro recently.  The city closed on an $8.5 million deal with Norfolk Southern to turn an inactive railway corridor into a four-mile walking path around downtown.

Action Greensboro, an non-profit group, has been working with the city to oversee the land acquisition and the project’s construction. The Norfolk Southern transaction was made possible through a combination of funds, including city bond funds, as well as contributions from Action Greensboro and the state of North Carolina.

It’s not unheard of to move centrally located rail yards to make way for parks. Many cities have done it successfully in the past.  New York, Chicago, and Sacramento have examples of successful railyard moves.

Friends of Queens Park doesn’t have a projected cost or timetable yet for Queens Park. The project would likely, though, have to depend similarly on some kind of public-private partnership.

Much of the property’s 200-plus acres are part of the county’s opportunity zones, which provides tax incentives for investors to buy land in certain underserved areas.  The Friends of Queens Park group sees the opportunity zone designation as a way to potentially help fund the park. While the interior would be preserved for the park, private developers could buy parcels on the park’s periphery to be turned into commercial or residential zones.

Friends of Queens Park will soon form a board and meet with surrounding neighborhoods on the proposal in order to garner public support first, then show elected officials that this idea is a popular one.