The Lowdown on Overstreet Mall
Discover the history and evolution of Uptown’s secret skywalk system.
For nearly 50 years, Uptown has been home to Overstreet Mall, a hidden-in-plain-sight skywalk system that connects office buildings, restaurants, shops, hotels and parking garages from The Green to Truist Center, with entrances along Tryon and College streets. For visitors and those new to the area, the above-ground network of enclosed pedestrian bridges, corridors and atriums can feel like a network of secret tunnels waiting to be explored.
Overstreet Mall connects major skyscrapers including One, Two and Three Wells Fargo Center, Charlotte Plaza, BB&T Center, One South at the Plaza, Bank of America Corporate Center, and Truist Center. The secret spot offers an abundance of amenities for Uptown workers, residents and visitors that’s weather-proof and climate-controlled, including sit-down and quick-service restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, convenience stores, salons, gyms, dry cleaners, alterations services, shoe services, a pharmacy, healthcare services, convenience stores, theaters and more.
HOW IT STARTED
These days it’s hard to imagine 1970s Uptown Charlotte—then still referred to as downtown—with only a handful of “skyscrapers,” a sea of parking lots and a city population of around 300,000 (about a third of today’s population). An urban expressway and light rail system were still in the distant future. It was a time when Charlotte was on the cusp of game-changing growth but also when the central business district was only buzzing from 9-to-5 and was perceived as quiet and a bit dodgy after dark.
Charlotte city planners used funding from the federal “urban renewal” redevelopment program, a project laden with racist undertones, for large-scale demolition of areas in Uptown. New construction during that time included the National Bank of North Carolina (NBNC) Plaza at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets and development of a system of interior overstreet walkways to connect the buildings to each other and with department stores like Belk Bros. and Ivey’s, both of which ended up closing in the 1980s as malls moved to more suburban areas.
During that era of the city, Uptown was corporate and formal with only a few places to shop, eat and play. City leaders catered to the business crowd and were coming up with plans to battle suburbanization of the area. They were inspired by other indoor urban walkway systems and shops like the Minneapolis Skyway System, Galleria Vittirio Emanuele II in Milan and Place Ville Marie in Montreal. According to the city’s 1971 Ponte Travers Wolf Plan, the concept of Overstreet Mall would “create a city within a city” and “brighten the daily lives of workers in the office towers and visitors from everywhere by providing them with an attractive environment of their own, remote from the noise and fumes of the street—a zone of restfulness, but also of elegance and vitality in the heart of the city.” However, many urban planners detested the concept of an interior pedestrian bridge network because they believed it limited development of street-front retail that added a necessary energy for a vibrant city.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, new office buildings, like the Bank of America Corporate Tower, were built expanding the network of overstreet bridges and interior retail space. In the 2000s, the Center City 2010 Vision Plan called for limiting the expansion of Overstreet Mall and supported the removal of walkways and the conversion of interior retail space to offices to encourage more exterior ground-floor restaurants and retail. Then in 2011 as part of the Center City 2020 Vision Plan, leaders began to re-embrace the concept of Overstreet Mall and instead of calling for its elimination, they proposed ceasing its expansion but developing ground-floor retail space adjacent to its entrances and redesigning hidden entrances to make it more visible and inviting from the street.
HOW IT’S GOING
As Uptown Charlotte has continued to experience dramatic economic development over the past 20 years, Overstreet Mall has served as a welcomed resource for the ever-growing Uptown workforce and residents and a hidden gem for curious visitors and transplants.
Fan favorites in Overstreet Mall have withstood the test of time, even through the pandemic, like Johnny Burrito, serving big California-style burritos and Mexican food; The Beehive, a beloved gift shop with an in-house floral designer; and Charlotte NC Tours, the city’s top full-service tour company, among others.
According to the 2021 State of the Center City Report, Charlotte’s urban core has 1.9 million square feet of retail shops and restaurants—that’s 89 restaurants and shops per square mile—with an additional 312,700 square feet under construction. In the 2010s, 61 new retail shops and restaurants opened and an additional 552,000 square feet of retail space is currently planned. Recommendations in the Center City 2040 Vision Plan include engaging a retail consultancy to evaluate and propose the best future use of Overstreet Mall and develop more enhanced wayfinding and signage at entrances as well as the idea to reimagine portions of the space for art studios as part of creating a stronger system of arts and culture in Charlotte.
While the future of Overstreet Mall continues to evolve, it’s become an important component of Uptown’s retail story that’s still unfolding.
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