Four years ago, Linda Holden bought a 200,000-square-foot building just outside uptown on North Tryon Street to house her construction and property-management businesses.
The scruffy scenery on that stretch didn't dissuade her. She purchased the building for $5 per square foot – well below the rate in other places that near uptown – and rents out most of it.
Holden now heads the advocacy group North End Partners, which, along with a name change from Tryon North Development Corp., has started marketing the area more actively.
“We're the next thing,” she said of North Tryon. “We're going to be the North End to the (city's) South End.”
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As the South End thrives with retail and housing options, North Tryon is mostly unchanged. Used-car lots populate the area. Weed-choked lots and boarded-up buildings sit just outside the I-277 loop. At night, people hang out under overpasses and on street corners.
But Holden and others see potential. Nearby neighborhoods such as NoDa and Lockwood have become more popular. Rising uptown rental rates have business owners looking elsewhere for better office-space deals.
Perhaps most important, the proposed light-rail extension could run through the area on its way to University City. That could bring a development boom.
South End, formerly a run-down portion of town with abandoned textile buildings, had a revitalization, partly due to light rail.
North Tryon, though, faces a perception problem, Holden said. Besides the rough scenery, Mecklenburg County's only permanent homeless shelter sits there. Tom Warshauer, an economic development manager for the city, said studies have shown the shelter negatively affects possible development.
Barbed-wire fences and lack of greenery also hinder the area.
“North Tryon is going to need some assistance to be able to meet some of the expectations that Charlotteans have for what neighborhood streets should look like,” Warshauer said.
The district's City Council representative, Patsy Kinsey, said North Tryon redevelopment has been discussed since she served on the county Board of Commissioners in the 1990s, but other corridor projects moved ahead of North Tryon.
“It seems like it takes an awful long time,” Kinsey said, “but the light rail would be a huge catalyst.”
Some business owners, such as Chuck Howard of Autobell Car Wash, aren't waiting to see what might happen. Three years ago, Howard opened one of his 51 locations on North Tryon after looking for a site with an attractive price close to uptown.
“We found that right here on North Tryon,” he said. “It's an area that's developing and still affordable, and it suited our needs very nicely.”