Editor’s note: On Monday, Charlotte City Council is expected to vote on a plan for the former Eastland Mall site. The city’s economic development committee favors a proposal that includes a soccer academy, esports hub and amphitheater. But CharlotteEAST, a group that advocates for the east side, says that’s the wrong choice. The writer below is a CharlotteEAST member.
Imagine a bustling sports complex next to a sprawling city park with fabulous food, colorful stores and beautiful homes all around. Young athletes and their families fill the arenas every weekend, injecting life and excitement into the atmosphere.
Teams travel from near and far to compete in all kinds of sports, spending the weekend in the Queen City. There is a brand new hotel for guests at the complex, and in between games, there is much to enjoy for everyone.
Visitors can take a short bus ride up Central Avenue through Plaza Midwood to the heart of uptown Charlotte for shopping, dining, museums, theater, professional sports and street festivals. Or, they can head out in the opposite direction to explore the many local restaurants and shops along the Albemarle Road corridor.
This is my dream for Eastland Yards, and the proposed Indoor Sports Complex that CharlotteEAST favors can make it happen.
East Charlotte and I grew up together during the baby boom. Mid-century modern homes were popping up in what was referred to as “the country.” Families flocked to the east side to raise their children, and there were plenty of us. Our ball games were the heart and soul of the community. It was wonderful to grow up here in the 1950s and ’60s.
In the ’70s and ’80s Eastland Mall was glorious, and folks light up when they talk about their good times there. Eastland’s decline in the 1990s was steep, so in 2013 the city purchased the land with plans of grandeur for revitalizing the corridor. Ten years later the time has come to complete that mission and bring the magic back to Eastland.
East Charlotte is all about family, and youth sports strongly impact the lives of young and old. Charlotte has no facility for hosting all the tournaments that go on every weekend, and local teams must travel to Concord, Rock Hill or Winston Salem to compete. We have been losing out on this business for a very long time. Building a state-of-the-art facility at Eastland would keep families coming throughout the year, benefiting all the businesses nearby. It is a no-brainer to me.
The Indoor Sports Complex at Eastland Yards will bring youth sports to the east side, with indoor hardwood courts for basketball, volleyball, pickleball, cheerleading, gymnastics, sports performances, and two ice rinks for hockey and ice skating. Outdoor courts and fields are also in the plans. The complex provides seating for 1,500 at competition events which are held an estimated 150 days per year. The community will have access to the facilities, youth and senior programming, and open event space throughout the week. The new hotel will bring hundreds of visitors to Charlotte and will stimulate the hospitality industry in the area, with jobs and dollars for local businesses.
Should Charlotte City Council go in the other direction, it will be the second time in a decade that they’ve prevented an amateur sports facility from being built in east Charlotte. After promising to convert Bojangles Coliseum into such a facility in 2013, the city reversed its commitment a year later.
Now, in 2023, as council and staff ramp up discussions to find land elsewhere in our city for such a facility, the desires and wants of east Charlotteans are again being dismissed.
On Monday, city council has the opportunity to live up to its vision of creating equitable development for all corridors of our city. Moving forward with the Indoor Sports Complex at Eastland Yards will be a long-overdue step in the right direction.
Kathy Buckley is an east Charlotte native and a member of CharlotteEAST, a nonprofit group that advocates for east Charlotte.