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Gaston sees uptick in building projects; official says, 'I think it’s our time'

GASTONIA Developer William Ratchford builds apartments on tough terrain all over western North Carolina, but his Cramerton property beats them all.

The steep, 38-acre site along Wilkinson Boulevard in Cramerton falls 110 feet to the South Fork River. Grading machines are scooping out a huge red-dirt cavity as they trim 40 feet from the hilltop.

The major earth-moving effort is making way for Phase One of South Fork Village, a complex of 352 luxury apartments and four commercial spaces. In the planning stage for several years, the project was put on hold and then changed hands.

Ratchford, vice president of Triangle Real Estate of Gastonia, said he thinks the time is right and the riverside location will spark interest. Also, it’s near Gaston’s soon-to-open, state-of-the-art Stuart Cramer High School and 15 minutes from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“It’s an easy commute from here to Charlotte,” Ratchford said. “And you’ve got a small-town feel. It will help Cramerton, Belmont and McAdenville.”

Local leaders say an uptick in building projects throughout Gaston County is a positive economic sign.

There’s a lot in the works, including apartments and single-family dwellings, and commercial space that includes a large upscale shopping center anchored by Harris Teeter.

Just up Wilkinson Boulevard from South Fork Village in neighboring Belmont, Ratchford plans to build 192 similar apartment units. Charlotte’s Laurel Street Residential is already developing land in Belmont for 72 units of affordable senior housing. And two new dorms are under construction at Belmont Abbey College.

“It’s happening,” said Gastonia Mayor John Bridgeman. “I think it’s our time. And this is just the beginning.”

Bridgeman recently presided at the construction kickoff for restoration of the 110-year-old Loray Mill. Considered one of North Carolina’s most historic buildings, the 600,000-square-foot vacant mill will be converted into loft apartments and commercial space. The $39 million first phase includes 290 apartments.

Other recent redevelopment projects include the 1921-vintage Armstrong Apartments and the historic Gaston Memorial Hospital on North Highland Street as 75 affordable apartments for lower-income seniors.

New Harris Teeter

Meanwhile, QuikTrip, the convenience store and gasoline retailer based in Tulsa, Okla., is building at least three stores in Gastonia. Rumors are afloat that Florida-based Publix is looking for a supermarket site. And the city’s planning commission has a rezoning request for a shopping center that would be anchored by Harris Teeter.

In 2012, the Matthews-based grocer left Gastonia when it sold six of its stores in smaller markets to Lowes.

Steve Vermillion, managing partner of MPV Real Estate in Charlotte, said a Harris Teeter would be the 50,000-square-foot anchor of a shopping center in south Gastonia. MPV has 18 acres under contract at Robinwood and Kendrick roads.

Vermillion said the 85,000-square-foot shopping center would be similar in design to Colony Place shopping center at Rea and Colony roads in Charlotte. The center will be traditional, all-brick with fountains, tower and outdoor seating.

The zoning commission meets May 9, and the City Council votes on the shopping center June 18. Bridgeman, who is a real estate broker, represented the property owner and won’t take part in the vote. If approved, the project could be completed by the fall of 2014, Vermillion said.

Belmont is also seeing a building increase. Among other things, Mayor Richard Boyce said there’s renewed interest in developing the Seven Oaks Farm on Lake Wylie that once belonged to textile executive and philanthropist Daniel Stowe. Plans first surfaced in 2007 for a possible mixed-used residential community, but the project stalled.

In Cramerton, South Fork Village’s one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be available by early 2014, Ratchford said. Rent will be in the high $700s to $1,100 per month.

A public canoe/kayak launch on the river will connect boaters to downtown Cramerton, about a half-mile away.

‘Green’ development

Cramerton, population 4,200, is also getting another new apartment complex. It’s a project along the South Fork River that’s been on hold for several years.

Groundbreaking for the Villages at Cramerton Mill is expected by mid-to-late summer, said Nick Parker, president of the Concord-based Amicus Engineering.

The mixed-use “green,” or energy-efficient, development will be on an 80-acre parcel off Cramer Mountain Road.

Parker said the project is zoned for 284 apartments, 246 single-family units and 124,000 square feet of office and retail space.

DePriest: 704-868-7745
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