The largest swath of undeveloped land left in Charlotte is under construction

Axios, Alexandria Sands, March 31st, 2023

Take an exit off I-485 in west Charlotte and you’ll hardly feel like you’re in the city anymore.

  • Between the Catawba River and the world’s sixth-busiest airport, greenery spans thousands of acres. Single-family homes dot the roadside, along with a small grill serving a cheeseburger called the “Sasquatch.”

Driving the news: For the past seven years, Charlotte developer Crescent Communities and the local government have been planning a 1,400-acre mixed-use community here called The River District. It’s finally happening.

  • Ground broke over six months ago on the utility and roadway infrastructure necessary to bring the project to life over the next decade.

Why it matters: The $6 billion River District project is expected to transform west Charlotte. The estimated gross economic impact for the region and state is $5.6 billion annually, per Crescent.

“This is going to become a destination for not just people who live in Charlotte but for people who are coming into town from the region or even from all over the country,” Brendan Pierce, president of commercial for Crescent Communities, tells Axios.

Details: Once complete, The River District will have 2,300 single-family homes, 2,350 multi-family housing units, 1,000 hotel rooms, 200 retirement units, 8 million square feet of commercial space and more than 500 acres of preserved land.

The first phase of work is for Westrow, a 70-acre town center developers describe as the most dynamic piece of the project. It will have 514 market-rate apartments, around 40,000 square feet of office and retail, restaurants, event space, proximity to trails, parks, an event lawn and a 2-acre working farm.

The intrigue: Edging Charlotte’s only major body of water, the River District plan reserves 40% of the acreage for open space, such as a riverfront park and 30 miles of trails.

“You could be paddle boarding on the river and in no time at all be at the airport or be in your office,” says Tracy Dodson, Charlotte assistant city manager. “It’s a pretty cool thing that we just don’t have anywhere else in Charlotte.”

  • Catawba Riverkeeper, Discovery Place and Catawba Lands Conservancy are partners in the community to educate people on the land’s natural resources.

What they’re saying: “This is a way of life that is going to be especially important coming out of the pandemic, which has really disrupted a lot of the conventional ways of thinking about what people are looking for in terms of a place to live, a place to work or a place to do business,” Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, told a crowd at a ceremonial groundbreaking for The River District this week.

The EDPNC recruits companies to expand in North Carolina by touting developments like the River District.

  • “The timing, in my humble opinion, could not be better to capitalize on this unique moment in our economy’s history as we get out of the shadows of the pandemic and start really catering to what’s going to drive company and employee decisions going forward,” he added.

Yes, but: With growth comes concerns about traffic, overcrowding in schools, and strain on police and other departments. By building a new community, the city should have an early advantage to mitigate issues that existing urban areas face, like mobility challenges and affordable housing shortages, Dodson says.

  • Crescent Communities has set aside land for Charlotte-based affordable housing developer Laurel Street Residential to build 124 units in Westrow. They will house families making 30%-80% of the area’s median income.
  • “It’s our intent to develop a diverse community of price points,” Pierce says.
  • The city of Charlotte has invested millions in the West Boulevard extension and water and sewer infrastructure for the River District.

What’s next: Construction of buildings will start by early 2024. It will be roughly a year after that before units are delivered.

  • Details on price ranges and tenants will be announced later.