Blue Line extension spurs development but is it walkable?
When the Blue Line extension starts carrying passengers from uptown to UNC Charlotte on March 16, riders will be rolling along the city’s next big development wave.
Apartments, offices, restaurants, shops and Charlotte’s second Topgolf location are already taking shape along the $1.2 billion line. Much like the Blue Line’s first leg of light rail through South End, the construction surge is expected to radically remake the areas along the track.
The building boom underscores one of the main goals of light rail, which is about spurring development as much as it is about moving riders.
“We won’t recognize this corridor in the next 10 years,” former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory told Observer news partner WBTV at a ribbon-cutting for the Blue Line extension last week. But it probably won’t take that long for the 9.3-mile stretch running roughly parallel to North Brevard Street, East Sugar Creek Road and North Tryon Street to be transformed.
Indeed, major redevelopment has already happened in areas such as NoDa and University City. But more is on the way.
More than 5,000 apartments are under construction, planned or recently completed along the path of the Blue Line extension, according to an Observer review of development plans.
In addition to Topgolf, planned near University City, a food hall and retail center is under construction in a restored mill on Parkwood Avenue, along with new offices for Duke Energy and additional shops.
In South End, the effect has been dramatic.
Only about 1,000 people lived in the area in 2002. In the decade since the Blue Line opened in 2007, that population has swelled to more than 9,000, according to Charlotte Center City Partners. Along with the new residents have come dozens of restaurants, breweries and shopping centers such as Atherton Mill.
Tony Kuhn, a developer and head of Flywheel Group, has assembled dozens of acres near the heart of NoDa, along Matheson Avenue, Sugar Creek Road and Craighead Road. He’s developing a new music venue at the Sugar Creek station, in addition to hundreds of planned apartments.
“Over the past few months the amount of interest from top-tier national developers has really increased,” said Kuhn. He said that the delay in opening the Blue Line – which had originally been planned to start running in August – may have helped development interest build up even more.
“That probably was a good thing to mold the project into what its true potential could be,” said Kuhn.
Wyatt Dixon, managing partner of Proffitt Dixon, a developer that bought land along the light rail in 2016 for $2.8 million, said the firm is still planning what to build on its 2.8-acre site, on East 26th Street near North Davidson Street.
“We’re just all glad it’s here,” said Dixon. “It’s going to be great to see that thing open up.”
Here’s a look at developments planned at the various stations:
Between the current end of the line at Seventh Street station and the edge of uptown, developers are working on several big apartment projects. Lennar Multifamily is building 548 apartments in a combination high-rise and low-rise building, while Levine Properties is planning a 10-story apartment building with 400 apartments wrapped around a parking deck.
More than 500 apartments are planned, including in the Alexan Highland Mill development under construction by Trammell Crow Residential. But the biggest new development underway is Tompkins Hall, a food hall, Duke Energy satellite office and brewery complex under construction in a century-old restored mill.
That project is expected to open this year, bringing a big infusion of trendy new drinking, dining and office options to the area.
Wood Partners is building 261 apartments next to the station, opening next year. A block away, Proffitt Dixon, another developer focused on apartments, is considering what to do with the site they recently purchased. Another block east, Ram Realty Advisors and Citisculpt are building 250 more apartments on a formerly vacant lot wrapped around Free Range Brewing.
Meanwhile, two blocks up North Davidson Street, the Bainbridge Companies are planning 277 more apartments on another vacant lot.
Crescent Communities recently opened Novel NoDa, a 344-unit apartment building at the light rail station. Asana Partners is building a new space for restaurants and shops next door that’s expected to open next door this year.
On the other side of the tracks, at Craighead Road and Philemon Avenue, Kuhn, the developer, said he’s planning to build 600 to 900 apartments, in the first phase of a new development that could break ground this year.
Kuhn is building the Station House, a mixed-use development anchored by the Charlotte Art League that will also include office space and retailers. The Charlotte Art League has moved into its space.
Blu at Northline, a 376-unit apartment building, is now open at North Tryon Street and Orchard Trace Lane.
University City Boulevard
Oxford Properties is building 338 apartments across North Tryon Street from the station. A quarter-mile away, Topgolf is planning its new location. The site, next to an auto dealership, is expected to be the first phase of a major light rail-accessible entertainment district in University City.
Office park-owner ATAPCO plans to transform part of an older office development at the McCullough station into 280 apartments. That development, on North Tryon Street right across from the station, is expected to break ground this year.