Uptown Booster Group Outlines Downtown Challenges | WFAE 90.7

Now is the time for Biz Worthy, where we check in on what’s happening in Charlotte-area business news. This week, we’re devoting a large portion of the segment to downtown, which has been hit hard for the past two years as employees work from home. The CEO of recall group Charlotte’s Center City Partners made a presentation to city council this week on the current situation in the city center. And for more, WFAE’s Marshall Terry talks to Toni Mecia from Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Terri: Okay, Tony, what were the highlights of CEO Michael Smith’s presentation to the Board on Monday?

Mecie: Well, Marshall, that was pretty interesting. A lot of times when you hear downtown leaders talk about the future of downtown, it’s in general terms, meaning they have long-term plans for specific things they’d like to see. occur. But what was interesting about it was that the members of the city council really delved into some of the challenges that downtown is facing, things like homelessness, public safety, the relocation of some businesses to South End.

Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners said he thought the future of downtown was bright. I mean downtown is not where it was when COVID hit. He said only about 50% of workers are back in the office, which he knows from talking to companies that use smart cards. So you can see when people come in. But he said it was better than many comparable cities where that number is only around 30%. So, you know, he addressed each of those challenges in response to the council members’ question saying that homelessness he hopes will improve with work with the city and county and then with the CMPD. Same thing with public safety. There’s been, you know, reports of trouble downtown, street racing. He said they were working on it and it was getting better. And when it comes to this issue of businesses moving to the South End, he said, we shouldn’t really think of it as zero sum. South End wins and Uptown loses, he said. It’s really the same region. And so if South End is booming, that’s good for downtown.

Terri: So is he saying that the South End and the city center are becoming one continuous district, that sort of thing?

Mecie: Yeah, that’s really their way of seeing things. They consider it the downtown core, the central business district. And he pointed out that development in the city center has traditionally shifted. In the 90s he said it was all about Trade and Tryon, moving to North Tryon and then a decade later to South Tryon. You have a number of new office buildings where LendingTree is and a bunch of other projects planned. So he said it’s always moving and it’s good for downtown.

Terri: Now, you mentioned that employees are returning to the office in town a moment ago. I want I want to stick to that for a second. The Insider publication recently gave an update on how it’s going for one of Bank of America’s largest downtown employers. And he found that it wasn’t going quite the way the leaders had planned. How?

Mecie: Well, it’s a bit difficult for businesses. Bank of America, its CEO, said, hey, we’re a work-from-work company. We want people in the office and at work. But how it happens is that there are not necessarily people five days a week, full time. They always try to give employees flexibility. The Insider article said that, you know, it really varies from division to division and you have divisions that are five days a week, others that are maybe two or three days per week, and that this creates tension between the employees. So it’s really a balancing act that a lot of these companies have to deal with. How do you bring people back to the office while giving them flexibility? And so Bank of America, probably not much different from a lot of companies like that, but, you know, it’s tough downtown trying to get back to full power.

Terri: OK. Let’s shift gears now. The General Ledger Reports A 12-year-old girl was hospitalized after falling from the zip line at YMCA Camp Thunderbird on Lake Wylie last week. What can you tell us?

Mecie: A 12 year old girl fell from a zipline structure at Camp Thunderbird, which is a very popular summer camp, overnight camp, day camp. The zipline is about 40 feet in the air. So that’s a pretty far drop for anyone, really. But the Y hasn’t released many details about it. He didn’t say how it happened. He didn’t say how the girl is. He has sent parents who have campers there a few emails saying, please pray for this camper and his family, but little information is coming out of the Y on this. And some parents ask, what do you do about it? Is it safe? They want more details, but the Y hasn’t provided that information.

Terri: And why is that? Do you know?

Mecie: That would be speculation on my part. But, you know, anytime you have something like that, there are potential legal ramifications, I guess. And I think they want to honor, you know, try to keep health matters confidential, although I think there’s no reason why they can’t say what they think he happened. I mean, it’s something that happened last week. They must have a preliminary idea, but they are not sharing it yet.

Terri: OK. Well, let’s end with something timely this week. Temperatures approach 100 degrees. You point out that the term air conditioning is widely believed to have originated in the Charlotte area. Really, where exactly?

Mecie: Since we all enjoy air conditioning, you might want to think about the term air conditioning. I spoke with Tom Hanchett, a well-known local historian, about Stuart Cramer. He was a textile baron in the early 1900s. He designed textile mills in the Charlotte area. While he was building these mills he also started developing a system that would sort of regulate the humidity and the heat in the mills because cotton is kind of like your hair I guess. You know, if humidity changes can make it a little frizzy and change it a bit. And so he wanted to regulate this patent filing in 1906 for something he called an air conditioning device. And today, of course, you know, we use the term air conditioning. I’m not saying he invented air conditioning. There were people before him who were working on similar things. But certainly, the term air conditioning, the first time it was mentioned in a US patent was by a Charlotte businessman, Stewart Cramer. One of the mills was in what is now Cramerton. This is how Cramerton got its name. Named after Stewart Cramer.

Terri: Well, who knew? Thanks very much. Thanks for sharing this.

Mecie: A little Charlotte and Gaston County history for you today, Marshall.

Terri: Alright, Tony. Good thanks alot. We’ll leave it there this week. Thanks. This is Tony Mecia from the Charlotte Ledger business newsletter. Biz Worthy’s support comes from Sharonview Federal Credit Union and our listeners.