Two expansive terraces overlooking uptown, a great atrium with a dominant spiral staircase and a maker space housing state-of-the-art technology feature prominently in the designs plans unveiled Thursday for the new Charlotte Mecklenburg Library main branch in the North Tryon corridor.

The $135 million overhaul calls for a 115,000-square-foot library, reducing the footprint of the current 157,000-square-foot building. But the sleeker, modern structure is seen as a harbinger for the future of uptown’s North Tryon area, where economic development stalled in the last decade compared to the city’s core.

“This will be the jewel of the cultural neighborhood,” said Nick Anderson, a senior architect with Snohetta, one of the firms tasked with reimagining the library that’s been situated at 310 N. Tryon St., since 1903.

Local leaders and developers see the cultural and arts institutions in North Tryon as untapped opportunities for reinvigorating the 60-acre, 50-square-block region. That includes the library and the historical Carolina Theatre, which the Foundation for The Carolinas is working to restore with an Intercontinental Hotel above it.

“The space that we occupy is critically important,” Lee Keesler, the library’s CEO, said in prepared remarks Thursday. “The building we have, though much loved, is unsuited and outdated for today’s library users.”

Mecklenburg County has committed $65 million to the project. The remaining $70 million will be raised through the library foundation’s new campaign, called CommonSpark. Coinciding with the launch Thursday, the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote informed communities, announced a $10 million donation to the new library.

Renderings - Charlotte Mecklenburg Library New Main Nov2019_Page_5.jpg
An architectural rendering released Thursday shows the core of the new Charlotte Mecklenburg Library main branch in the North Tryon cooridor. Snohetta

Details of library design

A massive curved facade made of glass and ceramic — an homage to the material’s history in North Carolina — appears to embrace North Tryon Street on one of the library’s three entrances, creating a dynamic interplay between the building itself and the surrounding area, Anderson said.

“The library will be unique, but we want it to be of this place,” he said.

A pedestrian plaza morphs into an terraced sidewalk, leading to a “library of the future” that thematically changes from floor to floor, Anderson said.

The initial levels, he said, evoke a sense of openness and excitement. The first level, for example, has a cafe and immersive theater area, followed by a digital visualization lab and recording studios, among other technology, on the second floor.

As visitors meander through the upper levels, they’ll encounter more traditional, yet flexible spaces, including the library’s collections interspersed with seating, a writer’s studio and reading rooms that overlook the corner of Sixth and Tryon streets. The 2,500-square-foot grand terrace on the fifth floor can be used for various events and programming, in addition to event spaces and open areas strewn throughout the building.

Keesler said that the current main branch, which was last renovated and expanded in 1988, will likely be demolished in early 2021. The new building, he said, is expected to open by late 2024.

“We had the opportunity to be a gateway, as well as a catalyst for North Tryon,” Keesler said. “Our aspiration is very ambitious: We’re trying to create something that the entire community will be proud of.”

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