The momentum being created around economic vitality in downtown Charlotte is becoming more visible, and much more colorful. The city’s newest placemaking initiative — Keys in the City — was unveiled Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Courthouse Square where one of two painted pianos was set out for public use.
The project was completed through the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) pilot program, ENGAGE, and included a number of local partnerships.
Bob Trezise, LEAP CEO, said ENGAGE is a program that fosters community pride and involvement in local partnerships.
“I honestly cannot think of a better place to kick off our ENGAGE program other than here in Charlotte,” he said during the Aug. 2 unveiling. “I’ve often times said while here in Charlotte that you are too hard on yourselves. There is no community in the three-county area that is even remotely as organized and together as you are. I always knew the benefits were coming.”
Togetherness was on display throughout the Keys in the City project, which has been in the works for the past two years. Local partners included Windwalker Underground Gallery, Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital, Can Do!, CharlotteRising, Courthouse Square Association, Capital Area Blues Society, Crosswalk Teen Center, Two Men and a Truck, the City of Charlotte, Gale Briggs, Inc., Kathy Geiger and family, Deeanna Denio, Michelle Henry, and Keys in the Cities Lansing/East Lansing.
“This project gave us all an opportunity to gather a group of our youth and provide them with a chance to get actively engaged and personally invested in our city,” said Kalli Dempsey, of Windwalker Underground Gallery. “I like to think projects like this give them fond memories and will bring them back home later on.”
Tresize said it is important not to underestimate the psychological impact projects like this have on economic development.
“We want people to feel good,” Trezise said. “If someone is driving by here, and they are contemplating moving, or investing or where their next choice is going to be, it might just tip the scale in your favor … I would not underestimate a little, beautifully painted piano.”
Dillon Rush, CharlotteRising director, said projects like Keys in the City and ENGAGE help move Charlotte one step closer to being extraordinary.
“CharlotteRising’s mission is to cultivate a vibrant and enduring downtown, and among others, at the very core of that mission is placemaking,” Rush said.
Larry Grudt, Keys in the City director, said he started the program as a way to provide cool art installations in the Lansing area. He said he quickly found that the pianos help build community.
“People see these pianos in town, whether people are playing them or not, and it will make a statement about your community,” Grudt said. “It’s inviting, it’s welcoming, it’s enjoyable and it’s very friendly.”
Charlotte Mayor Tim Lewis said Keys in the City represents another step forward for Charlotte.
“When we start physically changing downtown, whether it be with storefronts, pianos, maybe some traffic relief, people are going to see Charlotte in whole a new way. We’re not trying to be the fanciest group on the block, but we are going to be the best.”
One piano will reside at Courthouse Square, and the other will be located in front of Windwalker, at 125 S. Cochran Avenue. Both are open for public use, and will be covered with a tarp each evening and in the event of inclement weather.