- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A historic North Carolina black club which has been a landmark may reopen by the end of the year, the club’s owner says.

The Charlotte Observer reports (https://bit.ly/2qFCugI) owner Carla Cunningham, a Democratic state lawmaker, said she plans to restore Charlotte’s historic Excelsior Club as an event venue.

“I would like to . walk in there and say, ‘Wow, look at this place!’” Cunningham said.

Earlier this year, Cunningham began foreclosure proceedings on James Ferguson, a prominent civil rights attorney who bought the club from her husband Pete in 2006. The club closed last June for renovations, but financial problems had already begun to surface.

Cunningham has said that in 2014 she reduced monthly mortgage payments to Ferguson’s corporate entity, HKL, from around $6,000 a month to $4,000 and even then payments were sometimes late. In the last year, the building had fallen into disrepair.

In February 2016, city inspectors found an extensive list of code violations, including a falling ceiling, unsafe wiring and structural problems. The club had faced civil penalties of $12,800.

HKL still faces federal tax obligations of more than $166,000, according to Cunningham’s attorney.

The Excelsior opened in 1944 at a time when blacks had little access to other social clubs. It became a magnet.

Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong played the Excelsior. Presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore took their respective campaigns there. It’s also where excited patrons celebrated the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president.

The Excelsior is also in the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a local landmark in the mid-1980s when it was under the ownership of Ken Koontz and a partner. The landmarks commission called it “perhaps the finest example of the Art Moderne style in Mecklenburg County.”

Koontz said he’s happy the building will be preserved.

“I think restoration and reopening is just phenomenal,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always hoped would happen.”


Information from: The Charlotte Observer, https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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