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Historic Landmarks Commission aims for Excelsior Club deal
Building's fate depends of price of preservation
 
Published Thursday, July 5, 2018 9:18 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

The clock is ticking on the Excelsior Club.


The onetime hub of black Charlotte’s social scene is under a one-year demolition moratorium by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, which is trying to find a buyer for the property on Beatties Ford Road. The Excelsior, which was shuttered last year after property owner Rep. Carla Cunningham foreclosed on the club’s mortgage, which was held by civil rights attorney James Ferguson.


Cunningham, who said last year she initiated the foreclosure in the interest of her family and the business, said the Excelsior’s fate comes down to a business decision. If the commission meets her asking price, she’s open to selling.


“I’m kind of waiting to see,” she said. “I’m sure they’ve spoken with the county about what I was asking for, but I haven’t heard anything back. I’m looking at other options as well because from what I understand, the commission is saying there’s a gap between what I’m asking and what they can come up with to purchase the property.”


The Excelsior has limited protections against demolition, but ultimately its future lies with Cunningham, who can opt to maintain the property as a historic site, or sell it outright after the moratorium expires in June 11, 2019.


“We’re getting an appraisal on the parcel that the Excelsior Club building is located,”  said Dan Morrill, founding director of the Landmarks Commission. “We’re also getting bids from contractors as to what it would cost to bring the building up to code. When we get those two figures, the Historic Landmarks Commission will approach the owner to see if we can negotiate an option to buy the building, which would set the price, set the terms as far as the length of time the option would be available. Then we would put out a request for proposals from developers to see how they would respond to the issue of preserving all or some portion of that building.”


The historic commission has entered partnerships to rehabilitate historic sites in African American communities, including the George Davis House near Johnson C. Smith University and Grace Zion AME Church on South Brevard Street. If a demolition permit is sought for the Excelsior, state law allows the historic commission up to a year to save the building.


“Basically, an option allows us to do two things,” Morrill said. “It gives us an exclusive right to buy the property at the price that’s agreed to by the owner during the period of the option. The second is it gives us the opportunity to assign the option to another party who would buy it from us using our option as the instrument for purchase. We hope we’re able to do that if we’re able to obtain an option and we hope we can obtain it at a price that will attract offers on the property.”


The Excelsior, which entrepreneur Jimmie McKee opened in 1944 in the Washington Heights community, is the nation’s oldest black nightclub and the centerpiece of Charlotte nightlife during segregation. Music legends from Louis Armstrong to Nat “King” played the Excelsior, a converted two-story, seven-room house whose Art Moderne architecture is part of its historical significance. As racial barriers fell in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Excelsior maintained its status as a social and political center, hosting wedding receptions, fish fries, campaign gatherings and election night parties.


“The real significance of it is not only its importance in the history of the African American community, but in many ways, it’s an icon of the civil rights movement,” Morrill said, “because so many key incidents, events, gatherings [where] that building wasn’t the only place it happened, but it was the important place.”


The Excelsior’s future, though, will be determined by Cunningham.


“For me, it’s a business decision,” she said. “Preservation is more for than myself. Other people would like to see it preserved. I’d like to see it preserved but when it comes to the financial business part of it, I’m ready to move on. When I got it back, it was in such bad shape, it wasn’t operational, and what the contractors gave me for a price for rehabilitation is way out of my range, that’s why I went to the historic commission to look at what they could possibly do.”


The clock is ticking on the Landmarks Commission, and perhaps the Excelsior.


“Clearly, the decider of what will happen is the owner,” Morrill said. “If it is her choice, or whoever owns the property at the time the date is reached, if it is their choice to demolish the building, they can certainly do so.”
 
 

Comments

Why can't the make it into some type of SENIOR day center....I am a non-profit organization that was was started with my brother who was murdered 2014 in Charlotte. abryantyeswecare@gmail.com 704.605.7921
Posted on July 5, 2018
 

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