On Monroe Road past Elizabeth, rows of new, upscale apartments are nearing completion – a common sight in Charlotte. But nearby residents hope it will be the nucleus of something more than yet another apartment complex: They’re hoping it will help give the area an identity.
A group of residents is working with developer Roy Goode, who’s behind the Meridian Place development at Monroe and Idlewild roads, to brand the area. The development replaced the former Silver Oak apartments, which Goode tore down last year. The first new apartments will open soon, and Goode and the neighborhood steering committee are hoping to lure back a grocer, restaurants and other businesses that have left the area. And they’re hoping that new public spaces to gather can help the community coalesce.
“When we moved in, there was a Target right here,” said Kathy Hill, a 17-year Stonehaven resident who is co-chairing the committee, pointing toward Independence Boulevard. “Six months later, it was gone.”
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They’ve been meeting for more than a year, trying to figure out what their area should be called and what it needs. Neighborhoods involved include nearby communities such as Woodberry Forest, Woodburn and East Forest.
“We were a collection of neighborhoods with nothing to hook on to,” said Hill.
“As you look around Charlotte, you see the other areas that are already branded and have an identity; those areas are thriving,” said Cindy Rhodes, who lives in Woodburn. “They’re full of growth. I think it's important that an area have an identity it can put out to the public as a positive, cohesive group and attract people and businesses.”
They made a video which they sent to Trader Joe’s, asking the specialty grocer to open a Meridian Place store, in which a friendly rooster jumps on their heads as they list what they love about the store. Trader Joe’s corporate office politely declined, but they’re planning to ask again.
Residents are hoping their part of Charlotte will soon see more of the mixed-use developments that are popping up in places such as Plaza Midwood, NoDa, Dilworth and South End. Located near but not in Elizabeth and Cotswold, they want a snappy moniker of their own.
They look to “FreeMoreWest” – the Freedom Drive and West Morehead Street area that’s seeing growth – as a positive example. Hill said they’re not quite ready to unveil their planned name for the area yet, but they should have one soon.
“Having an identity is what's important,” said John Henderson, a member of the committee from Woodberry Forest. He’s hoping to see stores such as TJ Maxx, Panera and Starbucks open in the area.
Goode, who grew up on Sardis Road, said he wants to see the area beyond Meridian Place rebound – in part because it will help his own development.
“We here at Meridian Place are only as good as our neighbors and neighborhoods that surround us,” said Goode, who bought the Silver Oak apartments in 1994. “NoDa, Plaza Midwood, FreeMoreWest, you have a community...There’s a thirst for community here.”
There are already some positive signs of redevelopment in the area. Hendrick Automotive, the privately held company headquartered nearby on Monroe Road, is renovating the shuttered BJ’s store at Independence Boulevard and Conference Drive. A spokesman said the company plans to consolidate some back-office functions from its dealerships there, and centralize some of its car receiving operations for nearby dealerships.
Although plans aren’t finalized, the move is likely to bring hundreds of workers to a building that has sat vacant and decaying for years. And Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is planning to renovate and expand East Mecklenburg High, across from Meridian Place.
Still, challenges remain, many of which can’t be solved by a new mixed-use development. Independence Boulevard is often traffic-choked, and the state’s project to turn more of the road into a stoplight-free expressway has put further pressure on remaining local businesses. The boulevard slices off the Monroe Road corridor from its northeastern neighbors “like the Mississippi,” Hill said.
Closer to uptown, the Coliseum Centre still sits almost entirely abandoned, boarded up and blighting a big chunk of the landscape.
Adjacent to Meridian Place sits the Independence Shopping Center, whose tenants include a thrift store, dollar store and laundromat. The building’s owner didn’t return a message asking if any changes or upgrades are planned.
While developers often run into trouble with locals when they’re pushing major changes, many in the Monroe Road area are enthusiastic about Goode’s development. Unlike other areas, such as Plaza Midwood, NoDa and Elizabeth, that see cherished bars and neighborhood hangouts threatened by redevelopment, those around Meridian Place aren’t worried about losing something.
They see the chance to get something back. Many just want a place to sit and have a cup of coffee, and they’re hoping Goode can deliver.
“Everyone is desperate for a grocery store nearby,” said Hill.
Meridian Place moving along
Charlotte-based Goode Properties is behind the Meridian Place project, a mixed-use development on almost 20 acres.
▪ The development’s first phase consists of the M Station apartments, 260 apartment in several buildings. Rents will range $950 to $1,650 for one- and two-bedroom units. M Station consists of a half-dozen buildings with surface parking, and will include amenities such as a dog park, swimming pool, grill area and fitness center.
The first units are expected to open in mid-September, with completion in March 2016.
▪ Next, Goode plans to start commercial buildings on the site. A 10,000-square-foot commercial building geared to attracting local shops is planned to start soon near the corner of Monroe Road and Conference Drive. And Goode said construction is also planned to start soon on a three-story, 30,000-square-foot office building. The development is hoping to lure a specialty grocer, such as Trader Joe’s or Sprouts. Goode said they have talked with a number of grocers.