Essentially Charlotte

People, media, places, and everything in between

 Readers' Choice

Skyline view
Bentley's on 27

Picnic spot
Freedom Park

Festival in the Park

International event
Yiasou Greek Festival

Free event
Pops in the Park

Noteworthy event of last 12 months
Light Rail

Prostitution in SouthPark

Public garden
Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary

Wing Haven qualifies as a small miracle—or actually, at three acres in one of Charlotte's toniest residential neighborhoods, not so small. Between 1927 and 1988, Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson made it their lives' work to create this refuge for wildlife and people alike. Thanks to dedicated volunteers, the garden remains open three days a week so you can stroll past fountains, hedges, and formal rose and herb gardens, or just sit down under a giant oak and listen to the birds sing.
248 Ridgewood Ave., 704-331-0664

Neighborhood to walk in

Elizabeth has it going on—shops, restaurants, and nightlife, but also tree-shaded streets lined with lovingly restored bungalows. Be warned, the dog walkers and Baby Bjorn crowd have discovered it. Looking for landscaping ideas to try out on your own yard? How about ice cream, comics, coffee, live music, an upscale rooftop bar, and a family-friendly restaurant with open-air ping-pong tables? It's all here.

Public art
Mosaic at the East/West Lynx station

The mosaic at this light-rail station at Camden Road and East Boulevard is an intricate and beautiful piece of public art. Charlotte artist Tom Thome created the series of murals installed on a cement retaining wall facing the street, using bits and pieces of old tiles, broken plates, and pottery. It's a great piece that deserves a slow, museum-quality walk around. Look carefully and you will see commemorative plates, serving platters, teapot spots, coffee cups, doll faces, marbles, cows, bees, naked ladies, starfish, hula dancers, cats, mermaids, and a hornet's nest.

New Charlotte institution
The Women's Impact Fund

Charlotte is a city of giving, and that's epitomized in The Women's Impact Fund. Established just five years ago, the organization has grown from 100 members to 450, and each member commits to giving $1,200 a year for five years. They have direct participation in awarding grants and so far have given away $1.4 million to Mecklenburg County-based education, environment, health, and human service groups.

Place to brag about to out-of-town friends
U.S. National Whitewater Center

Even with its financial troubles, we're still bragging about the U.S. National Whitewater Center. For now, it's a one-of-a-kind facility, and have you seen it? It's impressive. The hiking and mountain-biking trails are first class, and the rapids are a blast, no matter your experience level. If you have friends in town and they're bored, take 'em down to Eddy's (the whitewater park restaurant) for a drink and show off our pride and joy.
820 Hawfield Rd., 704-391-3900

Place to spot celebrities
South End

In the past we've given this award to one particular restaurant, bar, or type of hangout. But as South End has become a hotbed of cultural activity, it's now where celebrities flock. Speaking for the rich and famous, they're drawn to the proximity and VIP treatment of places such as the Sunset Club (Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick), Sullivan's Steakhouse, Nikko (Jeff Gordon, many of the Panthers), and Woods on South (owner Marvin Woods, Ric Flair). And some like to mingle with locals at Jillian's (Clinton Portis) or grab some of the best fried chicken known to man from Price's Chicken Coop (Keyshawn Johnson). Keep your autograph book in your back pocket when you're out in South End.

Radio personality
Ramona Holloway

In an era in which popular radio shows are dominated by shock jocks, Ramona Holloway proves you can be funny, witty, and not overly insulting. She throws jabs occasionally and doesn't stray from controversial topics on her nationally syndicated "The Matt & Ramona Show," but her banter is usually thought provoking, not just provoking. Last year she launched a second show, "The Satisfied Life," which is a faith-based program that airs Sunday mornings.  
WLNK 107.9 FM,

Erik Spanberg

Blogs have created an environment in which anyone believes he or she is a journalist. Couple that with shrinking newspapers and we're often left thirsting for great journalism. Erik Spanberg quenches it with his in-depth reporting each week in the Charlotte Business Journal. The senior staff writer frequently interviews executives of big companies, and he doesn't shy away from asking the tough questions. Take, for example, his reporting on Bruton Smith's battle with Concord government leaders, and his number crunching while gauging the status of the Charlotte Bobcats' business deals. 

Cable network
Speed Channel

Since moving its headquarters from Connecticut to Charlotte in 2001, the Speed Channel has grown steadily. And being located in NASCAR country has helped the cable network become a leading authority on the motorsports industry. But it's not all about racing. Popular shows on the channel include My Classic Car, Unique Whips, and Truck U. In March, the network, which is owned by News Corp., announced it will expand its operations here and expects to add thirty-four jobs.

City visionary
Michael Marsicano

In January, nice guy Marsicano announced that Foundation for the Carolinas, of which he is CEO, would take a leadership role in attempting to bring people together to solve critical local problems. The $800 million community foundation will be courting controversy as it takes on issues such as affordable housing and the revitalization of the east side. It's a somewhat risky move for a group that's tied to almost every big name in the city—Wachovia's Ken Thompson will be the next board chair—but Marsicano has the vision to make it work.

Local hero
Michael Wright

Michael Wright heard children screaming and saw flames shooting from the windows of a car parked in front of a convenience store next to his house in north Charlotte. Without hesitation or regard for his own safety, he sprinted to the car, opened the doors, and rescued the four children. Their mother was in the store, leaving the children unattended in the car. One of the kids was playing with a lighter, which ignited the fire. Wright and two of the children suffered minor burns, while the other two suffered life-threatening burns. But they're alive and well thanks to Wright's bravery.

Real estate developer
Afshin Ghazi

He's young, flashy, and a couple of years ago he was considered a risk taker. But now that phases of his EpiCentre entertainment complex have begun opening, Afshin Ghazi is the man. His mixed-use tower offers cultural amenities and nightlife options that uptown was lacking, specifically a movie theater and bowling alley. And these aren't going to be run-of-the-mill nightspots—think plush seating and plenty of plasmas. Ghazi is also developing plans for a residential tower in SouthPark and a mixed-use project called City Crossing, to be located not far from the former site of the Charlotte Coliseum.

First Book-Charlotte

Citing statistics that 62 percent of low-income families do not have a single book at home, the nonprofit organization provides new books to children from low-income families and works with companies, schools, churches, and volunteers to make it possible for every child to enjoy the pleasure of reading. Since launching in January 2006, it has distributed tens of thousands new books.

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