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Students will learn outside of class in new development vision for Uptown Charlotte

Children and adults will stroll through museums, visit a reimagined public library, and interact with fun games in Uptown Charlotte if a new development plan reaches its goals. The vision would make a currently underutilized corridor in the center city this community’s ground zero for experiential learning.

The North Tryon Vision Plan, which will be finalized this spring and could take two decades to fully realize, calls for major shifts in a 50-square-block section of the central business district. The area is currently home to the main branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the Discovery Place science museum, the Levine Museum of the New South, and ImaginOn, a joint venture between the library system and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

That concentration of educational venues, plus the potential for significant private development in the 60-acre corridor, has led the visioning team to say that North Tryon will be the place “where curiosity begins, knowledge is advanced, and innovation lives.”

Nearly two dozen stakeholders — including the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the library system, and Foundation For The Carolinas — are involved in the vision plan.

No CMS campuses are located within the study area, but UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus is, and the vision plan calls for collaboration among higher education, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and private cultural institutions like the Levine Museum.

As I’ve previously reported, there’s long been a desire to place a CMS campus, particularly a middle- or high-school magnet program, in Uptown Charlotte. North Tryon plan supporters think there could be an opportunity to incorporate such a program into a public-private partnership in the corridor. At the very least, they anticipate partnerships between CMS and stakeholders in North Tryon — think field trips, shared facilities, and dedicated programming.

The plan calls out education as a key component, with the goal of cultivating “an environment, anchored by new and existing collaborative partners, that encourages lifelong learning with a continuum of formal and informal educational opportunities.”

What, precisely, that will look like is yet to be determined. But it is clear that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library will be a critical partner in terms of both infrastructure and programming. The Main Library branch, which sits at the corner of 6th and Tryon streets, would be redeveloped — perhaps at the base of a mid-rise office or residential tower — and re-envisioned to better meet the needs of a 21st-Century patron.

The library system’s board of directors is discussing ways the facility could interact more with the North Tryon corridor, both architecturally and programmatically. A new Main Library branch would almost certainly look and feel more inviting to the public than the existing structure, and it would offer programming beyond the walls of the building.

The vision plan isn’t binding, but the breadth of the stakeholders involved in the year-long planning process indicates the seriousness with which the community will embrace its recommendations.

As is often the case for major capital projects for education, cost will be an issue. The library receives most of its funding from Mecklenburg County, and it would need to partner with private developers and philanthropists to pay for a major redevelopment.

But if the vision becomes a reality, it could change how children and adults learn in this community. Backers picture students walking from a shared learning space to Discovery Place for a science lesson, to the library for research, or to a new public park for play — perhaps all in the same day.

CMS’ role would likely come later in the process, once specific projects are planned and begin construction. But the district’s longstanding hurdles to placing a school or magnet program in Uptown — the lack of available space in existing buildings and the cost of land for a new one — could be addressed through the type of public-private partnerships envisioned for North Tryon.

Informal conversations about CMS’ place in North Tryon have already begun, and I expect them to intensify over the course of the next year as the plan is finalized and starts to gather momentum.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.