Kurt Hogan longed for years to open a pub, a vision he shared with his dad and older brother.
Armed with an MBA, a love of the restaurant business and an appreciation for craft beers, the New England native visited Charlotte in early 2011 and decided the artsy North Davidson Street community was a perfect fit for his entrepreneurial dreams.
About that same time, the neighborhood, along with the rest of Charlotte, was suffering. Stalwart galleries and eateries that had helped define the eclectic community went out of business.
A new condo project in the heart of the district turned to rentals as the residential market tanked.
Hogan wasnt fazed. He continued with his plan to open a brew pub serving handcrafted beers and artisan breads.
Hes been remodeling for more than six months, hiring a millworker to craft tables out of 100-year-old walnut. And hes finalizing the menu, described as American with a twist.
Hes looking to open Heist Brewery the name is an edgy homage to the banking industry in mid-June.
The recession hit a lot of people pretty hard, said Hogan, who said he is a distant relative of Baby Face Nelson, the notorious 1930s bank robber. But its pretty evident people are being drawn back to NoDa. Everything points to NoDa being on the mend.
Hogan isnt the only one seeing promise in the neighborhood north of uptown.
NoDa, locals say, is showing signs of a rebound.
In addition to Hogans Heist Brewery, a new Asian fusion restaurant, Miyagi, is opening next to Revolution Pizza.
Apartment complexes are fully leased. On weekends, food trucks swing by more often, residents say, following the increased crowds.
When Heist opens at Highland Mill next month, it will be the third local brewery to open in NoDa in less than one year, joining NoDa Brewing Co. and Birdsong Brewing Co.
Were big fans of all the new doors opening for local businesses. Its very exciting, said Hollis Nixon, president of the NoDa Neighborhood Association, which includes residents and businesses.
The economy remains challenging. Consumer confidence overall has risen, but people remain worried about the economy. Unemployment is falling but is still near record highs.
NoDas renaissance stems, in part, from what makes it unique the availability of large, older warehouse and industrial space, relatively cheap rent and local landlords willing to take a chance on startups, real estate professionals say.
Things keep opening up in NoDa, said David Tschirhart, a commercial real estate broker with Legacy Real Estate Advisors who runs the website Restauranttraffic.com. Landlords there are more agreeable to take chances. The neighborhood is definitely coming out of (the recession) great.
Hit by the downturn
Once a textile center and mill community, the neighborhood was reborn as an arts district in the 1970s and 1980s as dancers, musicians, actors and artists moved in and restored blighted houses and opened businesses. Art galleries became a backbone of the neighborhood.
But many businesses couldnt stand the crush of the recent recession. Beet Contemporary Crafts and Functional Art gallery closed in 2010.
That same year, the founder of Salvador Deli & Market, a popular free-concert venue, died days before a deadline to get caught up on his rent or be shut down.
Some people wondered how the arts district would survive.
In response, the neighborhood created a grass-roots, community-driven outdoor arts venue called the NoDa Public Gallery.
On Saturday, the community planned to celebrate the unveiling of the Matheson Bridge Mural, a public-private collaboration where residents provided art for a public overpass.
We evolved with the times, Nixon said. Were having to reinvent the wheel here. But it worked out. (The area is) going to constantly evolve and change.
Bob Silverman of Winter Properties in Atlanta, which renovated Highland Park Mill No. 3 into the Highland Mill Lofts and commercial space, says the project went through a very difficult time over the last couple of years. But conditions have improved, and the future holds great promise, such as the proposed northeast extension of the Lynx light rail line, which would run behind Highland Mill. The train would have a stop in NoDa.
He said the commercial property is also fully leased with Heist, the apartment leasing office and a new veterinary practice.
We believe in urban villages, places where you can walk to galleries, restaurants and shops, Silverman said. People are starting to see that NoDas going to be a very important node for Charlotte.
Highland Mill Loft property manager Kelly Thomason said the loft apartments are 98 percent leased, a welcome change from two to three years ago when occupancy dipped to around 88 percent.
Last year has been wonderful, she said. We havent had to do rent concessions or specials.
Many tenants moved to Charlotte from New York and Chicago, she said. Tenants include some cast and crew who are in town filming the Showtime spy thriller series Homeland.
Its booming, Thomason said.
From mill to brewery
At Highland Mill, workers scurry to finish renovations on the nearly 7,000 square feet that will house Heist.
Breweries need large spaces, and NoDas historic mills provide a perfect home, said Tschirhart, the broker. Rents are also among the citys cheapest, averaging $12 a square foot to $15 a square foot, about half what other areas such as South Park might command.
Hogan, who said banks wouldnt touch me, is financing the brew pub with help from friends, family and other investors. Hes assembled a team, hiring brew master Zach Hart and chef Rob Masone from Mash House Brewery and Chophouse in Fayetteville.
Hogan feels Heist fits into NoDas culture perfectly because of its emphasis on handcrafted details, from the beer to the custom-designed granite dishes they will use to the 4-1/2-by-8-foot-deep, hand-built brick oven.
Its an artsy boutique community, and it just resonates with me, Hogan said. And everything that has to do with Heist is artistic. I couldnt see any better spot than an arts district to incorporate a brew pub.