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Revitalization of Excelsior Club, once a premier Black social club, at a standstill

CHARLOTTE — The Excelsior Club was once considered the premier Black social club of the Southeast. But since then, it has fallen into disrepair.

Now, a developer wants to revitalize the Washington Heights property. In a 9 investigation, Channel 9′s Joe Bruno learned he is running out of time before additional city council action is needed.

The Excelsior Club is one of Charlotte’s most historic and storied buildings. For Black residents, it was the social and political hub, welcoming people like Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Bill Clinton.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie, the fellowship, the unity that arose from the club,” said its former owner James E. Ferguson II.

Ferguson, a legendary civil rights attorney, said some of the best years of his life were when he owned the Excelsior Club.

“We needed a place where people could gather and talk about history, talk about our politics, and just socialize and be happy coming together,” he said.

Now, 40 years later, the building is in disrepair and plans to restore the site to its former glory haven’t taken off.

In 2019, Mayor Vi Lyles spoke before Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to provide $50,000 to a developer pitching an entertainment venue and boutique hotel for the property.

“If we don’t start doing something about Beatties Ford Road besides LaSalle and Beatties Ford Road, when will we get to it?” she aked.

The county kicked in another $50,000 and the Foundation for the Carolinas provided $150,000. It was a vote that was celebrated.

“This is a good day for the corridor and it goes beyond the district lines,” Councilman Malcolm Graham said then. “This is a good day for the city of Charlotte.”

More than four years later, Councilman Graham said he has met with the developer several times and doesn’t have an update on when the project will get going.

“We’re still working with the property developer. We’re working on his pace, right? And right now, his pace is pretty slow,” Graham said.

Sources tell Joe Bruno there are three major reasons why the project hasn’t gotten off the ground. First of all, the project’s scope hasn’t been settled on yet. The project itself is constantly evolving. Second, the building also needs extensive repairs, more than were previously expected. And third, there’s the issue of parking; where will people put their vehicles?

“It’s been sitting there for a while now, and two years after COVID, I hope that we can have some positive and moving on in ‘24,” Graham said. “But right now, I don’t really have anything to report to the community.”

It’s not just the city that lacks updates.

The Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission shared an email from May with Bruno. It’s the last time he’s heard from the Excelsior developer.

“We plan to restore the Club to its historic place in Charlotte and, over the next several months we will be working with various local professionals to finalize the design for the remodeling of the existing Excelsior Club facilities which will include restoration of the building’s historic façade, a boutique hotel, and a tribute to the Green Book,” the email reads.

But time is of the essence. The contract with the developer says if the preservation, restoration or replication of the Excelsior Club façade isn’t finished by Dec. 31, there’s a breach of agreement and all money must be repaid. Sources say leaders can always extend that deadline, but progress will need to be shown.

Commissioner Vilma Leake said her late husband cofounded the Black Political Caucus at the Excelsior Club.

“I hope they bring it back as it emulates what it was then,” she said.

She hopes plans for it come through. She wants to restart her physical therapy soon so she can hit the club’s dancefloor when it opens.

“I’ll be tiptoeing through the tulips, doing my ballet,” she said.

Bruno reached out to the new developer behind the Excelsior Club multiple times but they declined an interview. A spokesperson says there are no updates.

(WATCH PREVIOUS: Update on future plans for Excelsior Club)