‘It’s like being on an island.’ Streetcar construction disrupts business, development

Customers rarely eat outside at Hawthorne’s New York Pizza and Bar anymore, manager Adam Quigley said.

Streetcar construction has been going on outside the restaurant for more than two years. Beeping construction vehicles make it difficult to have conversations. Bulldozers fill the air with dust.

Customers have to walk around a maze of construction tape and uneven pavement to reach the restaurant. And Quigley said that for a month, customers driving to the restaurant couldn’t access parking because of construction.

The Hawthorne Lane bridge, a main route to the restaurant, has been closed since July 2017.

“It’s like being on an island versus being on a peninsula,” Quigley said.

Hawthorne Lane business owners, including Quigley, said they are tired of the Gold Line construction, which began in February 2017, according to Charlotte Area Transportation System officials. It’s been a financial hit.

And construction will continue through late 2020 or early 2021.

Charlie Adam Chang from Adams 7th Street Market said he has seen profit decrease between 30 and 40 percent since construction started.

Profits have gone down by a half at Charlotte garden center The Royal Gardens, according to owner Andrea Sweet.

To Sweet, it feels like an emergency.

“Call 911,” she said.

Restaurants are experimenting with other ways to “drum up” business, Quigley said.

The pizzeria is advertising to construction workers, schools, Boy Scouts of America, and hospitals, he said.

Restaurants are also partnering with external food delivery services like Uber Eats, Postmates and DoorDash. But for most of the businesses, that hasn’t been enough to overcome the loss in profit.

Charlotte Area Transit System knows construction has been hard on businesses, according to an email with CATS Public and Community Relations Specialist Juliann Sheldon.

CATS has used in-person visits, meetings and emails to keep businesses up to date on construction, she said.

Gold Line Disappointments

The $37 million CATS streetcar Gold Line opened on July 14, 2015, promising growth and development along Charlotte’s Elizabeth Avenue, then-Mayor Dan Clodfelter said at the time.

Ridership on the Gold Line was initially impressive. In the first year, the streetcar averaged 1,600 riders per weekday, 500 more than CATS had expected, according to a June 2017 article from the Observer.

It was a way to connect the Hawthorne Lane businesses to Uptown Charlotte.

But since then, the ridership has dropped.

Between 2015 and 2018, total ridership on the Gold Line decreased by more than 60 percent. They averaged a mere 600 riders per weekday, according to records CATS emailed to the Observer.

Not only is ridership down, but planned development has halted in the Elizabeth Avenue area.

In July 2015, Grubb Properties planned to redevelop 12 acres of land around the Gold Line. They were going to build 550 Link Apartments: affordable, yet attractive housing with a rooftop plaza and fire pits.

They planned a theater and a Whole Foods, hoping to attract millennials. There were going to be 20,000 square feet of ground-level retail and nearby offices.

But the upscale Elizabeth Avenue never showed up. Grubb Properties canceled the plans earlier this year, according to CEO Clay Grubb.

“We do not have any plans to do development in the area,” Grubb said in an interview.

Grubb said his company wants to focus on offering affordable housing, and the land near Elizabeth Avenue was just too expensive. Grubb sold most of its land, and now, the only buildings that Grubb Properties owns in the area are at 1523 and 1535 Elizabeth Ave. Novant Health and Central Piedmont Community College owns much of the nearby land.

What’s Next?

Construction will go on until late 2020 or early 2021. The currently 1.5-mile Gold Line will extend 2 miles farther west and one-half mile farther east, according to CATS.

On June 3, Charlotte’s streetcar will close for 18 months for construction.

Siemens S70 Streetcar.jpg
CATS will replace old-fashioned streetcars with cars similar to the LYNX Light Rail.

When the Gold Line reopens around late 2020, new Siemens streetcars with hybrid technology will replace the current charming green-and-yellow wooden streetcars, according to CATS officials. The station platforms will be higher, and the power will be updated.

When construction is complete, CATS plans to start charging a fee equal to the LYNX Light Rail fare, Sheldon said.