A friend recently asked me to name the nation’s most-improved city. Without hesitation, I said, “Charlotte, North Carolina.”
Why Charlotte? There are other turnaround cities — Pittsburgh, Denver, Washington — to name a few. Each has recovered from urban decay and disinvestment. But Charlotte is different. It has recovered from fast growth, sprawl and suburbanization.
Yes, there are other turnaround cities and Charlotte will have to compete with some of them. It's about 30-years behind the curve. Good luck catching up to the likes of Greenville, SC:
Software entrepreneur Peter Barth and his wife were planning to move to Charlotte from south Florida when they dropped by downtown Greenville for the first time on the way to see his uncle.
After strolling down Main Street and into Falls Park, they changed their minds on the spot and decided to move to Greenville instead.
“By the time we made it to the bottom of the falls, it was obvious that this is where we both wanted to be,” Barth recalled. ...
... Barth’s story and those of other newcomers suggest that Greenville’s downtown – three decades into a revitalization program – has begun to do more than boost the quality of life for natives and transplants already here.
Downtown is also serving as a magnet to draw outsiders who can do good things for the local economy – company owners who can relocate business here and talented executives that local firms need to prosper.
As Pittsburgh and Greenville can tell Charlotte, turnarounds take a long time. Why wait for a cool city to flower when an undiscovered gem is available now? Talent migration has already answered this question and industry/capital will follow:
Bill Bradfield liked downtown Greenville so much, he brought his company here.
The former Bell Atlantic executive founded Perceptis Inc. in Cleveland eight years ago to provide help desk and customer support services to colleges and universities.
When he decided to build a new headquarters and call center, he considered putting them in Charlottesville.
He also scouted Greenville and Charleston after Frontier Capital, a Charlotte venture capital firm that had invested in Perceptis, urged him to consider sites in South Carolina.
He spent his first day in Greenville looking at real estate with a group of business recruiters led by Hal Johnson, president of the Upstate SC Alliance economic development organization. ...
... Bradfield said they were all surprised to find downtown so cosmopolitan, and the favorable impression helped seal the deal for Greenville.
Since then, he’s put about 100 workers in the new Perceptis headquarters and call center in the First Citizens Building on West McBee Avenue.
Bradfield, who grew up in Philadelphia and lived in Los Angeles and other big cities, said one of the nice things about a big city is “there’s always art, there’s always good restaurants, and all of that was (in Greenville) with a decidedly more genteel flavor to it.”
The US urban renaissance is about having big city amenities at a fraction of the cost. That favors metros with substantial legacy assets. (See Buffalo) As real estate refugees flee New York City, they will choose Greenville over Charlotte. The ULI should have showcased the former instead of the latter.