By Michael J. Solender
Thereâs no questioning Charlotteâs prominence as a New South city and one of the fastest-growing urban hubs between Atlanta and New York City.
Fueled by the boom in economic development and jobs in financial services, banking, technology and retail since the late 1980s, the cityâs physical landscapeâespecially Uptownâs majestic skylineâhas been reshaped to better accommodate the area where a growing number of people live, work and play.
Dozens of Queen City skyscrapers boast world-class public art, convenient amenities (free Wi-Fi anyone?), shopping, entertainment and some of the cityâs best eateries. Whatâs more, many of them also provide seldom-seen glimpses into Charlotteâs fascinating past.
With offerings and background stories that far exceed their business purposes, these seven Center City greats tower above the competition.
With grandeur thatâs difficult for the eye to take in all at once, Charlotteâs tallest building, 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center, has been cleverly dubbed âThe Taj McCollââa nod to former Bank of America chairman and financial mogul Hugh McColl.
The towerâs opening ceremonies were attended by 55,000 guests who were transfixed as members of nearby Fort Braggâs 16th Military Police Brigade rappelled the full height of the building. The building rests on the site of earlier Charlotte department stores Belk (1929-1989) and Efirdâs (1923-1989) and an iteration of Charlotteâs City Hall (1891-1925).
The marble that adorns the main lobby comes from quarries in Spain, Italy, France and Turkey. In the lobby, visitors find a selection of stunning frescoes (among the largest secular frescoes in the world) by North Carolina artist Ben Long. A small gallery in the northeast corner of the lobby sheds light on the details behind the frescoesâ construction. It includes their materials and some of the original sketches Long used to create them.
The building is a gateway to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Centerâs performance powerhousesâBelk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Stage Door Theater. Directly connected to the towerâs lobby is Founders Hall, the massive atrium that houses top restaurants, like Aria Tuscan Grill and City Smoke, apparel retailers Ivy & Leo and Jos. A. Bank, and a skybridge connection to Overstreet Mall.
With art-deco panache extending from its lobby design all the way through its exterior facade, Hearst Tower upped the character and class of Uptownâs skyline when its doors opened in 2002. The Tower rests on space once occupied by the womenâs apparel retailer Montaldoâs. The building has a unique reverse-floorplate design in which the upper floors average more than 4,000 square feet more than those at the base.
The 46-story buildingâs College Street entrance stands two floors lower than the buildingâs Tryon Street front doors. An ornate, deco-style brass railing flanks the stairway here. A work of art in itself, the staircase was designed by Parisian ironworker Edgar Brandt using railings reclaimed from famed Parisian department store Au Bon Marche.
Hearstâs lobby is home to fine dining at Sea Level NC, Luce and Malabar, which are located on the expansive plaza out front. Theyâre nestled alongside Port City Java coffeehouse and popular Irish hangout RĂRĂĄ Irish Pub & Restaurant.
Located within Hearst Tower, The Hearst Service Center provides accounting, information technology and other business-related support to all Hearst media units (publishers of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Country Living and more).
The towerâs plaza offers wonderful people-watching and also affords visitors the chance to take in the free yet rarely visited fine art/glass collection that lies in the lobby of the adjacent Foundation For The Carolinas building. Visitors of Hearst can also enjoy pampering services at Modern Salon & Spa, which takes residence on the second floor.
Cozy, free work space for tenants and the public can be found off of the Hearst lobby at Collaborate 214. Complimentary Wi-Fi, private workstations, charging ports and even small office lots are offered during weekday business hours.
One of the newer entrants onto Charlotteâs high-rise scene, Duke Energy Center is also one of the most architecturally intriguing. A sharp, angular rise 48 floors above South Tryon Street, the building has a granite base and blue-green glass topped with a handle-like feature that bears resemblance to the Shanghai World Financial Center. The centerâs sophisticated exterior nighttime light scheme fascinates Charlotteans with its colorful variations, which align with city happenings (follow @WFLightsCLT on Twitter for information on the buildingâs light shows).
The building was to be the headquarters for Wachovia Corp. when originally constructed, but the name shifted to the lead tenant, Duke Energy, after the former bankâs acquisition by Wells Fargo & Co. Charlotteâs 1975 city directory listed Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and Charlotte Mutual Insurance as former occupants of the space.
One of the anchor buildings at the Levine Center for the Arts, Duke Energy Center offers visitors easy access to the Knight Theater, Mint Museum Uptown, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. Diners can feast on inventive fare at Levant Mediterranean Cuisine, Asian-fusion delicacies at EMZY Sushi Bar and Asian Kitchen and modern-American dishes at Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth. Energy CafĂ©, located along the buildingâs colonnade, is a quick-casual stop for healthy snacks, meals and beverages. Bonus: The Duke Energy Center offers free public Wi-Fi on the 500 Block Plaza in front of the Mint Museum.
Located on the roof of the Podium and accessible via the 10th floor is a gorgeous rooftop garden, the Green Roof, which is open during business hours for Wells Fargo employees and can be booked for after-hours events for all Duke Energy Center tenants.
Nicknamed âThe Jukeboxâ for its rounded top, One Wells Fargo Center is the former world headquarters for Wachovia Corp. Itâs one of four office towers that comprise the Uptown Wells Fargo complex. The location was once home to Jefferson First Union.
A setback came when mammoth Hurricane Hugo tore through Charlotte in 1989, just a year after the building opened. More than 100 of its windows were destroyed and demanded repair.
The center represents Charlotteâs first postmodern high-rise and was North Carolinaâs tallest building from 1988 to 1992. The Carolina Raptor Center once housed a âFalcon camâ here, streaming the antics of nesting peregrine falcons who love the buildingâs overhangs.
Enjoy a brown-bag lunch on the sunny outdoor plaza or pick up treats and eats at Smoothie King, Charlotte Coffee Station or Fujo Uptown Bistro. Meet friends or coworkers for post-daily grind cocktails at the connected Hilton Charlotte Center Cityâs hotel bar or catch a great workout at the Childress Klein YMCA.
Initially coated in a beige tone, Two Wells Fargo was repainted gray to compliment the renovated color scheme of nearby Wells Fargo Main. When it was built in 1971, it surpassed the Winston Tower in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as the tallest building in the state, reaching 433 feet high. The site was once home to the Charlotte Masonic Temple.
Now home to College Street Shops, Two Wells Fargo has something for everyone. Get your sweets-and-caffeine fix over a salted caramel brownie and steamy macchiato at AmĂ©lieâs French Bakery, a treat for Fido at The Dog Deli Food Company, and your shoes shined or cobbled at Samâs Shoe Repair. Other specialty outlets include Halfpennyâs Confections, JRâs General Store, Johnny Burrito and Tower Hair Salon. The atrium boasts fancy and casual culinary mainstays, like Mimosa Grill and Just Fresh.
Head up to the second floor of the lobby and connect to Overstreet Mall, where the skybridge traverses Fourth Street and meanders through a parking garage, easily connecting pedestrians to adjacent BB&T Center. Dunkinâ Donuts, McDonaldâs, Merle Norman Cosmetics and Tinder Box are among the myriad retailers in a blocks-long network of overhead shops.
One of Charlotteâs most distinguished skyscrapers, the Carillon Tower rests on the former space of the legendary Beaux Arts-style Hotel Charlotte. From 1924 to 1988, dignitaries, like former presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth, slept here. Today, the sky-high copper roof spire, which is shaped like a bell tower, makes the neo-Gothic edifice a standout. The buildingâs architecture and name (a carillon is a musical instrument often found in the bell tower of a church) were both inspired by the historic First Presbyterian Church located across the street.
Home to Charlotteâs Arts & Science Council, the Carillon Tower is perhaps best known for two fine works of art in its lobby. In the center of the space, Swiss artist Jean Tinguelyâs 40-foot-tall kinetic masterwork CascadeÂ is a quirky, kinetic mashup of whirling and whizzing objects that had previously been discarded and then reimagined by Tinguely. Muralist Sol LeWittâs Wall Drawing #683, which features geometry saturated in jewel tones, claims the buildingâs far lobby wall.
Feel like splurging on a dinner to remember? Mortonâs, The Steakhouse, which is located here, is known for prime steaks and chops that are a cut above the rest.
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Building Owners and Managers Internationalâs 2001 TOBY award winner for excellence in office management, Fifth Third Center is a Tryon Street standout. The entrance of Fifth Third is slanted at a 45-degree angle to directly face Bank of Americaâs Corporate Center, the buildingâs owner. Charlotteâs official city directory in 1975 listed several retailers in this spot, including Al Goodwin Shoe Salon and Style Setter Clothing.
Soothing sounds emanate from the seven-spigot fountain out front facing Tryon Street, and inside, visitors find a stunning collection of abstract, colorful acrylic works, including those by Milwaukee-born artist Jason Rohlf and Indian painter Natvar Bhavsar.
An all-day pick-me-up awaits at Dilworth Coffee, where a cozy lounge, hot java, quick bites and free Wi-Fi are all major draws. Power lunch at The Capital Grille, where dry aged steaks and fresh catch headline a fine dining menu that satisfies even the pickiest of eaters with its sophisticated fare and ambiance. Both Dilworth Coffee and The Capital Grille are nestled off of Fifth Thirdâs lobby. Craving something a little more casual? Check out the mouthwatering burger spread and full small-batch whiskey bar at Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar. Live music seeping out from under doors beckons after hours.
Year Built: 1997
Height: 447 feet
Often called the bird of Charlotte, the crane is a familiar sight in the city. And itâs hard at work. Several new skyscrapers are on the rise and will give the cityâs stunning skyline a new look over the next few years.
Crescent Stonewall Station
Location: 300 E. Stonewall St.
Plans Include: Whole Foods; 460 apartments; parking deck
615 South College
Location: 615 S. College St.
Plans Include: Regions Bank; WeWork; office space
300 South Tryon
Location: 300 S. Tryon St.
Plans Include: Rooftop bar; office space; Romare Bearden Park extension; Kimpton Hotel
620 South Tryon
Location: 600 S. Tryon St. (former site of The Charlotte Observer)
Plans Include: Office space; potential mixed-use space
Residence Inn Charlotte City Center and AC Hotels by Marriott Charlotte City Center Downtown
Location: 210 E. Trade St.
Plans Include: AC Hotels by Marriott Charlotte City Center Downtown; Residence Inn Charlotte City Center; rooftop restaurant
Location: 601 S. Tryon St.
Plans Include: Retail space; office space
This article ran in theÂ June 2017Â issue of Charlotte Happenings.