Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation looks to create a dazzling uptown destination to make Charlotteans proud.
by Cathy Martin
On November 5, the seventh annual Verse & Vino will unite book lovers, not in a packed uptown ballroom but on TVs, laptops and iPads in homes across Charlotte. The format may be different for this year’s Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation fundraiser, but much remains the same: You’ll still be able to sip wine, enjoy great food, and hear from five New York Times bestselling authors. Radio personality and event emcee Sheri Lynch will be there, too. And you’ll get an autographed book of your choice to enjoy after the celebration is over.
Last year’s sellout dinner drew 1,350 attendees; this year, even more bibliophiles will be able to take part as the event shifts to a virtual format. The foundation has been planning since April to ensure that the digital experience will be every bit as festive as the traditional in-person event.
Last year’s Verse & Vino marked the public announcement of CommonSpark, an ambitious campaign to raise $135 million to pay for systemwide programs and technology upgrades, fund an endowment, and build a spectacular new uptown library that’s part of a two-block redevelopment that will include shops, a hotel and a reimagined Spirit Square. As of late August, the foundation had raised about $95 million toward its goal. Construction on the new library should begin in late 2021, with an opening planned for 2024.
SouthPark spoke with Jenni Gaisbauer, chief community officer and executive director of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation, to learn more about this year’s Verse & Vino, plans for the new uptown branch and the library’s goals for serving the community.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
What can attendees expect at this year’s Verse & Vino?
We’ve been innovative. This is not a Zoom experience — it’s going to be super high quality. Of the 90-minute production, 75% will be pre-recorded, and 25% will be live with Sheri Lynch and some cameo appearances by local celebrities.
For couples, we’re going to deliver to you a date-night box: it will be a three-course meal, a bottle of wine and a book of your choosing of the five authors. We also have party boxes for groups of 10. Lowe’s, our party-pack sponsor, commissioned local artists to make charcuterie boards. You’ll have food, desserts, a warm appetizer, nice tea towels for your kitchen, lots of wine. [Presenting sponsor] PNC Bank is providing stemless stainless-steel glasses. It’s pretty over the top, I would say.
What updates can you share since the announcement of the CommonSpark campaign and new uptown library?
We’re building a public institution, a public library that’s for everybody. What it represents is this beacon of hope that I think people seem really excited about. It’s something to increase our civic pride.
The county is going to tear down Spirit Square. They’re investing up to $40 million in revamping and restoring McGlohon Theater and Duke Energy Theater. When you walk in the main library entrance and you go to the left, those will be the entrances into those theaters.
We’re creating a main library, but we’re [also] creating a destination. When you have friends coming in from San Francisco, we want you to say, “We have got to have a glass of wine down at the main library. You have to see this library.” It’s more than that, obviously, for us, but we want this to make people want to come down and be entertained — but also get all the resources they need.
How did the building design come to be?
We’ve partnered with Snøhetta, which is an amazing architecture firm that started in Oslo. They helped create the North Tryon plan. They have done two projects that we love: N.C. State University’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library and Calgary’s new Central Library. They really have a passion for libraries and people.
[Library CEO] Lee Keesler’s thoughts were, and I believe it: Everyone deserves to be inspired; everyone deserves to be in a building to be inspired.
What new services will the library provide?
In the new space, we’ll have consultation services and spaces for privacy, which we don’t have today. We’ll also have career coaches, and coaches for young teens. What we’ve learned with Imaginon is that teens are growing out of that space a lot faster than they did 15-16 years ago. We want to be able to provide that next step for them.We’ll have a community media lab, an editing booth and a recording booth where they can learn how to record and tell their stories.
Libraries are going really much more toward these open spaces. There will be books, but they’re built more for people now.
What else is going on at Seventh and Tryon?
The library is going to be on half the footprint — we’re [building] up. There will be a 30-story, class A corporate tower. The first nine levels will be parking, and they’re going to have a four-story outdoor terrace working area. It’s beautiful, and the rest will be corporate offices. Right next to that is going to be a hotel. There will be retail all around it, and a mid-block plaza. The theaters will have a beautiful presence, as well.
Aside from the new uptown library, what will funds raised by the CommonSpark campaign support?
We are also raising $20 million for systemwide programming. Our budget for programming is really small for how many programs we do a year. We do 29,000 programs a year. Technology will be another [investment] for this system.
The other thing is creating an endowment. When the foundation was created, the goal was to create a $20 million endowment. Right now, our endowment is close to $4 million or $5 million.
This time is really, really tough for nonprofits of all types for unrestricted support. It’s a struggle, because donors, including myself, like to give for something [specific] that feels good. But the more flexibility donors give nonprofits, the better. SP
Verse & Vino 2020
Dinner, drinks and an all-star lineup of bestselling authors: Mark your calendars for November 5 at 7 p.m.
India Hicks, An Entertaining Story. Hicks was a host on the second season of Bravo’s interior-design competition Top Design.
Megan Miranda, The Girl from Widow Hills. Miranda is the bestselling author of suspense thrillers The Last House Guest, The Perfect Stranger and All the Missing Girls, plus several books for young adults.
Christopher Paolini, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Paolini’syoung-adult series The Inheritance Cycle has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide.
Alice Randall, Black Bottom Saints. Randall is a songwriter, the author of novels including The Wind Done Gone and co-author of the NAACP Image Award-winning Soul Food Love.
Christina Baker Kline, The Exiles.The No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of eight novels, including Orphan Train and A Piece of the World, is published in 40 countries.
Individual ticket: $125, includes an autographed book and a link to the event
Date-night box: $300, includes the above plus a three-course dinner and a bottle of wine
Party box: $1,250, includes book bundles for book clubs and other groups, a charcuterie board, a hot appetizer, desserts, wine and more for 10 people
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit foundation.cmlibrary.org/verse-vino/.