Will Central Flea Market be at Charlotte Eastland Mall site?

Displaced vendors from Central Flea Market at the old Eastland Mall property are making their pitch to be part of the site redevelopment in light of news that Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC owner David Tepper won’t be including a youth academy and soccer fields in the project.

But ahead of a ground breaking at Eastland planned for Wednesday by developer Crosland Southeast, Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari announced he’s working again on a plan that would move the flea market to another location.

Fruit Vendor Jorge Castaneda told The Charlotte Observer late Tuesday he’s is open to moving to another location, but would “absolutely” prefer going back to the Eastland Mall site he and other vendors were kicked out off months ago.

“Some people are still going [to the Eastland Mall site] and looking for us,” Castaneda said. “It really depends on the location.”

Central Flea Market pushed from Eastland

Bokhari says vendors could have a “new home” in the next couple weekends.

In February, the vendors — known for selling exotic produces and other items — were told by city of Charlotte staff to leave the property “immediately” and not to come back.

The orders came months after the city ended its lease agreement with the market operator last fall, consequently preventing vendors from selling on the site, the Observer previously reported. At the time, the developer for the city-owned 80-acre site planned to begin construction for a $175 million mixed-use development. Construction is now scheduled to break ground Wednesday.

In a statement made available Tuesday by Action NC, which has advocated for assistance and support of the flea market, representatives cast doubt that the redevelopment will be inclusive, given that it’s already displaced locally-owned and operated market businesses. Amid the plan to “Envision Eastland” — the redevelopment’s branding — the statement says local market vendors demand to “go home” to the only place they’ve set up shop regularly in the last decade.

“There is always the promise of cultural diversity and economic development for working communities of color. The reality is always the same; our communities are left out or priced out, as decisions are made and carried out by privileged decision-makers and communities,” the statement says.

Following the market’s closure, a number of vendors reached out to the city for assistance.

Last month, Bokhari did find a temporary location and invited vendors to attend free of charge. The market was in a series of parking lots between 6th and 9th streets and between Brevard and Caldwell streets, the Observer previously reported.

Although Bokhari said the space could accommodate up to 150 vendors, many did not show up due to their lack of “input and agreement,” WCNC reported.

Now, Bokhari says he’s found another option but it’s unclear how much participation he’s had from the original vendors at the Central Flea Market. He says he’s reviewing the location with some displaced vendors to “make sure any potential issues are resolved.”

The prospective location is privately-owned land in east Charlotte, near Matthews, Bokhari said in a news release Tuesday. The new market at 1720 Galleria Boulevard would be open on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m., but gates will open to vendors at 7 a.m., the release said.

“We heard the pleas for help when the vendors had to come back to council for a second time,” Bokhari said in the release. “They needed enough space to operate their businesses, the ability to start working as soon as possible, and a location with longer term opportunity to operate.”

Bokhari contends the 11-acre space, which is mostly paved, surpasses the five acres the vendors initially asked for. It’s located off Independence Boulevard and Monroe Road and has free parking for customers. He proposes the market use a professional management firm to run day-to-day needs and use fee revenue from vendors to buy land in the future.

What about Tepper’s space?

Castaneda said he’s worked at the Eastland Mall site for eight years before being displaced, so it would be harder for him and customers to get accustomed to a new site.

“You’re going to go back to a place where you make money and know you’ll succeed,” he said. “We want to go back to where we knew we could succeed and where we knew our customers could easily find us.”

One idea he and other vendors want to propose is them taking over the acres that were going to be used for the soccer academy and fields. Tepper decided to pull out of the Eastland Mall project last month after it “posed challenges that led us to research expedited alternatives,” according to a statement from TSE.

“We’re working on something in the long term,” Castaneda said.

Castaneda and other vendors are planning a proposal to present to the city in the near future, he said.

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Jonathan Limehouse is a breaking news reporter and covers all major happenings in the Charlotte area. He has covered a litany of other beats from public safety, education, public health and sports. He is a proud UNC Charlotte graduate and a Raleigh native.

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