By Kristen Moore, Torie Robinette and Laura White
Charlotte is a city on the move, but it wouldnât be where it is today without the rich history of some of its most beloved neighborhoods. Three such areas have experienced resurgences from their humble beginnings to the distinctive districts they are today. And through ambitious development plans slated for the coming years, these communities will reinvent themselves once again.
NoDa is no stranger to reinvention. But with the addition of a promising LYNX Blue Line light rail extension coming in 2017, this neighborhood is on the cusp of something big.
NoDa was initially established in the mid-1800s when Mecklenburg County located its water-processing plant and the areaâs poorhouse there for the ill, elderly and needy. It wasnât until the early 1900s that NoDa would become a manufacturing mecca, housing major mills including Highland Park Mill No.3, Johnston Mill, Mecklenburg Mill, South Atlantic Cotton Waste Co. and Chadbourn Hosiery Mill.
The mills were buzzing, self-contained communities for their workers and their families with housing, churches and schools. Trolleys down North Davidson Street began servicing the area in the early 1910s, making it one of Charlotteâs first âstreetcar suburbs.â The mills saw stability through the first and second World Wars, and it wasnât until the beginning of the 1950s when the mills were sold that the neighborhood began to fall into significant decline.
The turning point came when artists Paul Sires and Ruth Ava Lyons moved in and opened the Center of the Earth Gallery in 1986, the first gallery that gave rise to the NoDa âArts Districtâ rebirth. Music venues, more galleries and kitschy eateries such as Cabo Fish Taco, CrĂȘpe Cellar Kitchen & Pub and the flagship AmĂ©lieâs French Bakery followed suit and turned the area into a safe haven for the cityâs alternative, punk, creative and young professional classes.
In recent years, gallery crawls, concerts at Neighborhood Theatre and The Evening Muse, and a colorful cityscape have symbolized NoDaâs vibe, while real estate developers have built apartments, condominiums and bungalows galore. Galleries moving out have been replaced by renowned breweries, like NoDa Brewing Company, Birdsong Brewing Co., Heist Brewery and Free Range Brewing.
The 9.3-mile light rail addition will be an even bigger game changer. The second NoDa Brewing Company location, gaming locale Abari and upcoming Joeâs Doughs are already opening up shop in the area.
Highland Park Mill, a new concept adjacent to the soon-to-be Parkwood light rail station in Optimist Park, will be redeveloped into retail and loft-style office space along with outdoor courtyards, rooftop terraces, a large food hall and a shopping area. All of this will take place while preserving the original architectural integrity of the original mill building.Â
In addition, Crescent Communities has locked sights on 36th Street for a project containing 350 residential units, a boutique grocer and a potential hotel. Two other major apartment complexes bringing more than 500 units collectively are slated by Carolina States Regional Center and Southern Apartment Group. A 6.1-mile greenway addition has also been secured that will add to the Cross Charlotte Trail, a planned 26-mile greenway running from Pineville through Uptown and UNC Charlotte, to the Cabarrus County line.
This isnât the first time an investment in transit has yielded substantive economic development. Just look at South End and the original LYNX Blue Line project and residents will get a glimpse of whatâs to come. NoDa will soon begin its third act, and itâs likely Charlotte hasnât seen anything yet from this resilient bohemian borough.
Second Ward in Uptown
Named after the borough in New York City, Brooklyn was one of the first neighborhoods in Uptownâs Second Ward. The area developed in the early 1900s and thrived for several decades as the heart of the cityâs African-American community. It was home to an economically diverse group of people, from doctors to laborers alike. The neighborhood was the location of Brevard Street Library, the first free black library in the South; the United House of Prayer for All People, one of the first locations in the U.S. and the first in Charlotte; Second Ward High School, the first urban black high school in Mecklenburg County; and Myers Street School, the largest African-American elementary school in the area. Additional businesses, churches and community spaces flourished.
From the 1930s to 1950s, Brooklyn experienced a decline, and in 1961, Charlotte City Council voted to clear eight blocks of the neighborhood. The demolition of many homes, businesses and churches took place from 1963 to 1977. That effort was the beginning of the controversial urban renewal of Charlotte.
Over the years, the area saw new development, including Marshall Park, the former site of the United House of Prayer for All People; the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, the former site of Myers Street School; several hotels and many government buildings; the Charlotte Convention Center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex.
One of the most noteworthy additions to the area came in 2010. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, established in 1974 and named for the cityâs first African-American mayor, moved to a new location along Stonewall Street in Second Ward as part of what is now the Levine Center for the Arts. The architecture pays tribute to âJacobâs Ladder,â the nickname of Brooklynâs Myers Street School, with its uniquely designed stairs and escalators. The Gantt Center also features an elaborate street-facing mural called âDivergent Threads, Lucent Memoriesâ by artist David Wilson, which honors the history of Brooklyn.
Decades after Brooklyn came and went, Second Ward is expecting major development once again. In addition to Hyatt Place, which opened in 2013, a 250-room Embassy Suites is scheduled to open on the former site of an AME Zion Church. And the Stonewall Street Corridor is expected to transform completely over the next five years.
Two of the biggest projects slated are at the helm of Crescent Communities. The 27-story Tryon Place at South Tryon and Stonewall streets will feature 700,000 square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 300-plus hotel rooms and a parking garage. And a mixed-use project on Stonewall Street across from the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame includes plans for 47,000 square feet of retail space including a Whole Foods Market, two hotels boasting a collective 400 rooms, 450 residential units, a parking deck and retail with direct access to the LYNX Blue Line light rail. In addition, Mecklenburg County commissioners relaunched the search for a developer in October 2015, calling for a mixed-used development, Brooklyn Village, on 17 acres of Second Ward. It would reshape the whole area and honor old Brooklyn.
Though it remained officially nameless until the early 1990s, South Endâs pulse and personality have been palpable since the early 19th century.
The areaâs first breakthrough came in 1825 with the discovery of gold just off now West Morehead Street, which was part of the nationâs first gold rush. McComb Mine was born that same year near todayâs Bank of America Stadium and later became the Old Charlotte Mine and then the St. Catherine Mine. The last of the mines, the Rudisill Mine, remained until 1938. Â
Transportation development brought another opportunity for growth to the neighborhood. On October 21, 1852, the first train arrived in the Queen City. The Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad was the first to connect Charlotte to Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina. Of course, new commuting opportunities also propelled new commerce and business opportunities, the most significant of which came in the form of locally owned and operated factories and mills. As they sprang up, they left two neighborhoods on either side of the rail corridor, Wilmore and Dilworth, to house mill workers; South End became the glue between the two.
South Endâs future as Charlotteâs first industrial park came in the early 1893, when Daniel Augustus Tompkins built Atherton Cotton Mill, now Atherton Lofts. It laid the foundation for a flood of others, like Mecklenburg Flour Mill. The first half of the century gave way to more innovation in South End, including a Pepsi-Cola bottling franchise and Nebel Knitting, a producer of high-fashion hosiery, whose facade has been renovated today into the Design Center of the Carolinas.
But by the early 1980s, the mills and factories that once shone so brightly in South End had relocated to cheaper properties or abroad, leaving the area desolate and deserted. With inexpensive real estate, local artists and designers began opening studios and furniture galleries in an effort to revive the area with a renewed sense of culture, community and safety.
South Endâs true rebirth came in the early 1990s when a renovation of Atherton Mill became part of an economic revitalization effort, leading to its restoration and conversion into high-end condos. And in 1994, the neighborhood earned its formal South End moniker and identity, carved out by official boundaries and a logo, with the incorporation of South End Development Corporation (now Historic South End).
South Endâs property values doubled with the introduction of the LYNX Blue Line light rail in 2007, and access to this cozy borough became easier than ever.
Today, the funky enclave on the edge of Uptown has become synonymous with craft beer and hip breweries, creative restaurants and shops, and the bustle of the light rail. Themed block parties and post-work play offerings abound. Maintaining its gritty vibe, itâs a hotbed of young professionals who commute to work in Center City but enjoy the community feel of this biking and pedestrian-friendly locale where most rent townhomes, condos or apartments.
Still, South End braces itself for another reinvention, this time in the form of a $100 million retail and residential overhaul of Atherton Mill, which currently features restaurants, produce markets, specialty shops and new, notable retailer Anthropologie. The project, led by developer Edens, is slated for completion in 2017-2018 and calls for approximately 64,500 square feet of retail space and an estimated 440 residential units. The intention is to preserve the shopping centerâs historic nature.
Meanwhile, other development companies, like Beacon Partners, have set their sights on expansion projects on prime blocks in South End. The forecast? Lots of retail, residential and office space weaving its way into the fibers of this storied community.
This article ran in the January 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings.