Obsessions over South End branding are starting to annoy other neighborhoods

A South End branding sign in 1997.
A South End branding sign in 1997.

On Monday, I wrote a story about the newest apartment planned for South Boulevard. Many readers were disappointed with the building’s design (which they said was too bland) and the 200 new apartments on top of 1,000 already planned for the area (which has already seen a big increase in traffic).

But one reader was upset with something else in the story – this sentence: “Development firm Bainbridge is kicking off a new development in South End that will bring hundreds of new apartments to the already-booming corridor.”

Where, the reader asked, did I think this new apartment building would be located? Rather than South End, the building was in fact in the Sedgefield neighborhood.

“Enough of Charlotte's personality is being lost to oversized apartment/condo construction,” the reader wrote. “Please help us retain the scant individuality that remains.”

I checked the neighborhood lines, and sure enough, the reader was right. The planned apartment building on South Boulevard just south of Remount Road is in the Sedgefield neighborhood, though near the edge. But it’s an area that (I think) would be most readily identified by readers as South End, given that it’s on South Boulevard, adjacent to the Blue Line light rail and near a bunch of other developments identified as being in South End.

In that, these new apartments aren’t unique: Much of the area commonly referred to as South End is technically in neighborhoods such as Wilmore, Sedgefield or Dilworth.

It’s an issue I’ve run into before, especially with fast-changing areas. Adding to the confusion: Sometimes businesses use a better-known name for their location in order to help with branding. For example, the original Amelie’s NoDa location isn’t actually in NoDa, and neither is NoDa Brewing’s first brewery or Centerstage @NoDa (For the record, they’re in Villa Heights and Optimist Park).

Businesses often want to associate themselves with a “hot” area, as well as one more people have likely heard about than smaller, lesser-known neighborhoods. Those naming decisions not only cause confusion for newcomers and real estate reporters – they often draw pushback from the spurned neighborhoods. In Villa Heights, the neighborhood association recently installed signs around the area’s borders as part of an attempt to preserve its identity from encroachment by the NoDa name.

And with development reshaping huge swaths of the city, what it’s acceptable to call a given area is likely to remain a contentious topic. Just north of uptown, the developers rehabbing an old mill into a food court and office building called Tompkins Hall are trying to re-brand the area as the “Mill District.” To make it work, they’ll have to get buy-in from existing neighborhoods, such as Optimist Park and Belmont.

So what do you think? Is it ever acceptable to use a different name from the official neighborhood designation to describe an area, or are we locked into those neighborhood designations forever? After all, neighborhoods evolve and change – South End itself wasn’t even called South End until 1994, when developers re-branded it to change the area’s blighted reputation, and now it’s one of the hottest and best-known areas in Charlotte. But a city as shiny and new-feeling as Charlotte already faces accusations of tearing down big chunks of its identity, .

What do you think? Leave a comment or send me a tweet.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo