All these things are great, but even if we had them, Charlotte still wouldn't be cool. And really, that's what this neurotic obsession with the Hornets leaving is all about. As much as some people want our city to grow up fast at taxpayer expense, Charlotte is still an awkward, zit-faced teenager searching for an identity. You can dress that awkward teenager in the hippest clothes and hand her the keys to a cool car, but it will still be years before she looks in the mirror and likes what she sees.
That's the way life is. Some people are born cool. Some people grow into it. And others make complete fools of themselves trying to be something that they're not. It's the same with cities. Like that teenager, this city is still young. We have all the time in the world to get to where we're going, and to make our mistakes along the way.
There isn't one amenity listed above that I would drive 200 miles to see. It's nurturing what we have already, not building versions of what other places have, that will make Charlotte a bang-up city, someplace worth a long drive to get to. I know it sounds crazy, but it could happen if some of you people would learn to chill the heck out for a while.
Take College Street for instance. The city pumped millions of dollars into CityFair, but still couldn't drag people uptown. Meanwhile, some unknown DJ named Andy Kastanas throws up a nightclub called Mythos in a warehouse across the street, leases out the rest of the space to two other clubs and eventually opens a swank meet-and-greet called Cosmos, and within a few years the place is crawling with people at night.
Down at city hall, they say people like Kastanas made it because they put the Panthers stadium deal together and that brought people downtown. But those who stay up past 10pm know that Kastanas' club was hopping before the Panthers came to town and that Panthers fans don't go to Mythos in their Dockers to throw down after games.
We should canonize Kastanas. We should invite him to sit on all the right committees with all the important people, and they should shut up and listen when he has something to say.
But instead, we slap him and other pioneering club owners with a dance hall ordinance and force them to pay thousands of dollars a year to stay open an extra two hours a nasty ordeal Kastanas' friends say still freaks him out when it's brought up.
When it's said and done, all the mixed-use developments, condos and restaurants uptown won't bring an ounce of flavor to uptown compared to what that one anchor club has done for the center city. Why? Because Kastanas understands what it takes to make a city great: youth, vibrancy and innovation and all the colorful silliness that comes with it. The energy of a city comes from its young people, not from cubicles on the 33rd floor of some bank. Unfortunately, that's a critical point the mostly older leadership of this city continues to miss.
The first flickers of genuine originality and style in Charlotte aren't in the center city, but around it. It was young energy and vision that brought Thomas Street and Plaza Midwood back to life, cleaned up SouthEnd and saw the potential of Elizabeth and North Davidson before this city's leadership caught on to what was happening. It's that energy we must cater to if we want to be a great city and attract young professionals and business owners here and encourage them to put down roots. A trolley alone won't do it, but cultivating the hottest bar and club scene on the East Coast will. Kids just out of college will come here for that, then look for a job, rather than the other way around.
I know that to my parents' generation, a "bar" or a "club" they aren't called dance halls anymore, folks was a dark smoky place where bad things happened in corners and loose women met strange men to do things they shouldn't. But the social scene of today, and particularly the one developing in Charlotte, is far different from that. I'd feel out of place on the weekends in jeans in many of the places I hang out. Usually we'll head to Jack's, Thomas Street Tavern, City Tavern or Tutto Mundo for drinks, then uptown to Time or Fox and Hound and then, if we're still up for it, to Palladian, Mythos or Bar Charlotte to boogie. Five years ago, you had far fewer options. I'd like to have more. Charlotte needs more dance clubs like Mythos, places so unique in their own right that they become known as far away as Atlanta.
Can you imagine an uptown with four designated club districts one on South Boulevard, one in North Davidson, one in the blocks surrounding College Street in the center city and one down Central Avenue with a weekend shuttle system designed specifically to link them? Where the clubs went, the restaurants, shops and movie theaters would follow. What that would do to property values in some of the still sketchy neighborhoods and pockets around uptown could be staggering.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that we should systematically identify and contact successful club owners across the country, pitch them on the concept and promote the heck out of them and those who are already in business when they get here.
The point is this: We can work with what we have, and we have plenty.
It can't be bought, but it can be brought to Charlotte. *