Evil EpiCentre?

The center city's hottest new draw may be also end up leading to a decline in our urban culture

If you had asked Robyn Riggs a year ago where she was going on a Saturday night, the answer might have been Madison's or The Attic in uptown. However, since the EpiCentre opened in March 2008, Riggs, twenty-four, now frequents BlackFinn and Suite.

"There's so much in one space that you don't have to leave," says Riggs.

It's that lack of foot traffic in uptown that has critics of the EpiCentre concerned. It's bringing the outside in and staying in, which, says David Walters, a professor of architecture at UNCC, is a bad thing for urban culture.

"Street life is one of the symbols of an active cultural life in any given society," says Walters. "We've forgotten how to live our lives in public on the street … and the multilevel courtyard at the EpiCentre is part of that trend. It's the old-fashioned mall principle with the roof taken off."

Walters also worries that the pedestrian bridge over College Street connecting the EpiCentre to Overstreet Mall and the Bank of America Corporate Center serves as a connection between two secluded worlds.

"If you take away reasons to be on the street, then public space atrophies," says Walters. "EpiCentre, the way that it's built, doesn't put enough energy back into the city."

There's no doubt, says local architect and developer David Furman, that the development has had a palpable impact on uptown culture.

"The difference is the size of the city," says Furman, who suggests that Charlotte doesn't have the population to keep other uptown venues at capacity. "You can't suck the life off the streets of [Washington] D.C., because it's too big of a metro area," says Furman.

In spite of the downsides, the EpiCentre's proximity to public transit provides an incentive for more people to come into the city.

The summer will be the true litmus test for how the EpiCentre has affected the downtown scene, says Max Nicholson, owner of Charlotte Pedicabs. "I think that people are drawn to the EpiCentre because it's new. ... Eventually people will go back to their old haunts." —Emily C. Brown

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