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Local & State

Public-private venture proposed for Excelsior Club preservation
Developer, government and nonprofits join forces
Published Monday, December 16, 2019 2:41 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

The Historic Excelsior Club in Historic West End could have a buyer in a $1.3 million public-private venture that includes the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Foundation for The Carolinas, Knight Foundation and San Francisco-based Kenwood Investments.

The race to preserve the Historic Excelsior Club is in its final stage.

Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County commissioners are expected to hold votes on a $1.3 million public-private partnership that would buy the property in Historic West End and develop it for mixed use purposes. Council’s vote on $50,000 in funding is Monday; Mecklenburg’s is Tuesday for the same amount. Private partners in the project include San Francisco-based Kenwood Investments, which is pouring in $1.1 million; Foundation for The Carolinas and Knight Foundation.

“We’re saving it,” said council member James Mitchell, who grew up in West Charlotte and is a former district representative of the Washington Heights community that includes the Excelsior. “We’ve got a deadline of Dec. 31, so we need to put a bow on it.”

According to its website, Kenwood Investments “focuses on real estate development, tourism and high-tech industries” and “has a track record of developing extraordinary projects that augment the cultural fabric of our California community. We navigate the complex path of public policy, land entitlements and pre-venture capital funding.”

Mitchell, who chairs city council’s Economic Development Committee, said the redeveloped site could include meeting space and a gallery. Negotiations to put the venture together has taken “about six months,” he said.

The Excelsior, which closed in 2016 and has fallen into disrepair, once counted black Charlotte’s elite among its members. The site has been placed on a list of 11 sites “at risk of destruction or irreparable damage” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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 McKee bought for $3,510. As racial barriers fell in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Excelsior remained a social and political center, hosting wedding receptions, fish fries, campaign gatherings and election night parties.

The Excelsior’s owner, N.C. Rep. Carla Cunningham, told The Post last year refurbishing the building would require at least $400,000. The property was previously listed for $1.5 million and had a proposed buyer earlier this year, but that deal fell through.

Dan Morrill, founding director of the Historic Landmarks Commission, advocated saving the building in an October interview because of its art moderne architecture – a rarity in today’s Charlotte – and importance to the African American community are invaluable.

“I’m a pragmatist at heart,” said Morrill, who is now retired. “I think it’s very important to keep the legacy of the Excelsior Club alive. I think there are real challenges with trying to fully restore the building. I don’t really have any preference as to whether it’s done publicly or privately. I think the main thing is whatever is more effective in keeping the legacy alive.”


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