With the Epicentre — a multistoried collection of thriving restaurants and bars — as a centerpiece, there is an abundance of options downtown each evening. Among the features are the Cultural Mile, which includes the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center; the Levine Center for the Arts; Spirit Square; and the North Carolina Dance Theatre. Within walking distance is Discovery Place, an interactive spot for children. Also, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum Uptown and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture are three world-class museums standing within one block of each other.
One of the more significant and far-reaching changes came when Johnson & Wales University opened a campus on the edge of downtown in 2004. With more than 2,500 students enrolled to study cooking, restaurant management and the hospitality industry, the city’s culinary scene has quickly sprouted. More than 60 percent of Johnson & Wales graduates have stayed in the Charlotte area. As The New York Times pointed out in reviewing the Charlotte restaurant scene before the convention in 2012, North Carolina may be a barbecue state, but its biggest city has a far more diverse palate.
The prestigious steakhouses are here — The Palm Restaurant, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse and Morton’s The Steakhouse. So are celebrity-chef offerings from Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. But Charlotte also has its unique restaurants. Halcyon Flavors From the Earth, located in the Mint Museum Uptown, features products from artisanal farms, dairies and wineries in the Carolinas. 5Church Restaurant blends fine dining with a contemporary vibe. Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers’ buttermilk fried chicken breast never disappoints. Both Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen and Upstream in the SouthPark area are among the most consistently popular restaurants in the city.
Charlotte has become a city of neighborhoods, each offering a slightly different slice of life. It’s easy to live in a place where schools, places of worship and shopping are all within a short drive of each other. The Dilworth neighborhood offers the convenience of being next door to uptown while still having the feel of a suburban neighborhood with its old oak trees and crisscrossing streets. To the north, there is the leafy place around the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. To the south, the Ballantyne community has become an enormously popular blend of business and residential communities.
When Charlotte built a light-rail line that runs from the southern edge of town to Center City, it immediately exceeded all ridership expectations. Running through a corridor of small businesses, the light rail has spurred a renaissance in the area with several new residential projects underway or on the books. The rail line is being expanded to the northern edge of town, and it was one factor in the selection of Foxx to become Secretary of Transportation under President Obama.
Among the city’s strengths has been its willingness to look to the future and prepare for it. With leaders such as former Bank of America chairman and CEO Hugh McColl, Charlotte aggressively pursued a bigger role in the financial-services sector. The city was headquarters for Wachovia before the bank was purchased by Wells Fargo, making Charlotte home to two of the four biggest banks in the country for a time. Wells Fargo has retained a major presence in the city.