In another move to revitalize its downtown, Huntersville is buying 2 acres of prime land that it will market to developers to build condos, restaurants and shops.
The Huntersville Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Oct. 19 to pay $625,000 from the town’s fund balance for five bank-owned parcels that have been in foreclosure since the recession.
Much of the acreage is a grassy area that fronts Old Statesville Road (N.C. 115) outside the Huntersville Town Center building, which houses Discovery Place Kids and town offices.
Before the recession hit and the parcels fell into foreclosure, Norcom Properties of Charlotte planned to build a 36,000-square-foot, three- or four-story building on the land.
And that’s exactly what Huntersville would like to see happen now, Mayor Jill Swain said.
“This is really exciting for us,” Swain said. “It’s another jump-start toward redevelopment of our downtown.”
Swain said the north Mecklenburg town has fielded inquiries from people wanting to open a coffee shop, bookstore and other small establishments downtown, but they have few good places to go.
The town would have the developer it selects build the three- or four-story mixed-use building.
Huntersville has plenty of retail locations, including Birkdale Village and the Northcross Shopping Center with Targetand Lowe’s.
But the immediate downtown area – the blocks near the Gilead-Old Statesville Road intersection – includes only a handful of restaurants and shops. The exteriors of buildings along Old Statesville Road appear outdated.
“There has been a lot of frustration over the lack of quality spaces in the downtown area, and some landlords have been slow to meet the public demand,” the mayor said.
Buying the five parcels “should help fill the gap,” she said.
The purchase also includes a gravel plot fronting Gilead Road west of the larger grassy area where Norcom planned its building.
The town will soon seek proposals from developers for the former Norcom property. Town Manager Greg Ferguson said he’s already been in touch with several developers interested in the land.
“We have a number of developers intending to fill out the request for proposals” the town is about to advertise for the parcels, Swain said.
Last decade, before it built the brick Huntersville Town Center building, the town put underground utilities on the property. “It’s shovel-ready land,” Assistant Town Manager Gerry Vincent said.
Swain said the Oct. 19 purchase was important “because we want to control what our downtown will look like.”
Other projects are in the works
The town, meanwhile, is working on other plans to enhance its downtown.
Swain said the town is in discussions with a developer for a mixed-use project on the 32-acre, town-owned Anchor Mill property off Church Street and Huntersville-Concord Road.
Also, under design is a roughly $2 million veterans memorial park with an amphitheater and a building for banquets and a growers’ market, the mayor said.
And the town plans to build an alternate north-south road through downtown along an upgraded Main Street. The road would support more commercial and retail development and would be tied together by roundabouts at the northern and southern ends of downtown. The improvements will cost $10 million to $12 million.
Swain also points to the town’s former police department across from Discovery Place Kids on Gilead Road. The former police headquarters now houses the North Mecklenburg Senior Center. Seniors there volunteer at Discovery Place Kids and nearby Huntersville Elementary School, she said. The kids and seniors have brought a new generational mix to downtown, she said.
Downtown plans getting noticed
The new energy Huntersville is putting into its downtown impresses Ryan McDaniels, executive director of the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corp. The non-profit corporation recruits industries to Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson.
Having a vibrant downtown is important to the owners of companies considering a move, he said.
“It just helps us in the recruitment of quality businesses,” McDaniels said.
McDaniels said all of the planned improvements will create a downtown better able to meet the demands of the town’s booming population – Huntersville soared from about 3,000 people in 1990 to over 50,000 today, according to the U.S. Census.
Michael Hren said he and his wife, Deborah, already enjoy heading downtown from their home in the nearby Vermillion community. They like to dine at Cafe 100 on Huntersville-Concord Road and Primal Brewery on Old Statesville Road.
Hren, 61, said he’s kept up with the town’s downtown development plans and likes what he’s heard.
He looks forward to visiting even more places once they’re up and running.
“I make my money local, and I like to spend my money local,” said Hren, who works from home as an assistant chapter manager for the National Electrical Contractors Association.