Development

Can Charlotte’s North End emerge as ‘alternative to NoDa’?

Just north of uptown, the shock troops of change and redevelopment are moving into new territory.

Dubbed Charlotte’s North End, years’ worth of visions drawn up by planners are on the cusp of coming to life, as developers start to move forward on big swaths of land roughly running north from uptown along Statesville Avenue and Tryon Street up to Atando Avenue:

▪ A New York investor has purchased over 1 million square feet of defunct warehouse and factory space on Statesville Avenue, with plans to renovate the site, where Ford once churned out Model Ts.

▪ Heist Brewery wants to rezone a warehouse building on Woodward Avenue for a high-end butcher shop, bakery and brewing facility.

▪ And waves of new buyers are still flooding into Brightwalk, the former Double Oaks public housing development that will total 800 new residences when its redevelopment is complete.

“Some really sexy things are coming to the area,” said Al Ausin, a Charlotte City Council member who represents part of the area.

It’s all reminiscent of South End, which blossomed from a seedy area of old warehouses and mills into thousands of new apartments, a half-dozen breweries and new restaurants and offices after the Blue Line light rail opened in 2007. But there are some key differences – and a desire by many not to simply become the next South End.

“We want to create our own character,” said Austin. “We’re the North End.”

For one, the Blue Line light rail extension doesn’t run directly through North End the way it did in South End. Instead, it goes up North Davidson Street (which is having its own boom, with 2,000 apartments planned between uptown and 36th Street).

Also, much of the redevelopment in the North End is happening on big chunks of land – 75 acres at the Hercules Industrial Park, nearly 100 acres at Brightwalk, dozens of acres at what used to be the Tryon Hills apartments between 24th and 26th streets. That’s in contrast with the South End, where many of the changes have happened a couple of acres at a time.

Another key difference from South End: There are already established neighborhoods of single-family houses in areas like Druid Hills, where hundreds of residents live – raising worries about gentrification.

“Anytime you have major growth like we’re getting ready to experience, you want to make sure people who want to live in the area can stay in the area,” said Austin.

Much like South End before its boom, the North End is still rough around the edges. One day this week, a stop sign amid acres of vacant lots on North Pine Street was riddled with what appeared to be bullet holes. Nearby, a homeless man sat by the side of the road, trying to sell a backpack, lamps and other odds and ends.

Matt Browder, of Browder Group Real Estate, said the fact that the North End is less developed than nearby booming areas such as NoDa – where land prices have shot up – makes it attractive.

His firm bought 12.4 acres along 23rd Street and between North Church and Tryon streets from Vision Ventures in August for $4 million, real estate records show.

“We really like the area,” said Browder. “It’s a good alternative to NoDa because things are going so fast over there.”

His firm has been leasing the industrial buildings there to new tenants. He’ll look at redeveloping parts of the site in the years to come, after more road improvements. One of the new tenants he’s bringing in: An artisanal coffee roaster, which he expects to draw new people.

“You’ve got the opportunity to bring some people who might not be in the (North End),” said Browder. “It warms people up to the area.”

Buyers have been attracted to Brightwalk for its proximity to uptown and relative affordability. The not-for-profit Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership bought the Double Oaks housing project in 2007 and tore down the buildings. Brightwalk will total 800 townhouses, single-family houses and apartments when it’s fully built out, with 452 of those units set aside for low-income residents.

“I wanted something that was close to uptown,” said Sam Kieber, 30, a mechanical engineer who bought a townhouse in Brightwalk and moved in last month. “You’re looking at Dilworth or Plaza Midwood, and those are very expensive.”

Townhouses in Brightwalk start in the mid-$200,000 range. In Dilworth, new townhouses have been selling for twice as much.

Here’s a look at some of the other North End developments in the works:

▪ Apartments at 24th and North Pine streets: Real estate records show Vision Ventures bought the Tryon Hills apartments in 2008 for $10.25 million. The apartments were demolished in 2013. Now, the vacant site stretches for four blocks. The street grid, thick, old oak trees and driveways are still there, leaving the impression that the buildings were sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner.

A Nashville-based developer, Todd Jackovich, has filed a rezoning petition that would allow 343 new apartments and townhouses on part of the site. Douglas Stephan, a principal at Vision Ventures, said the company is still planning for the rest of the site.

“We’re waiting for the market to come to us,” said Stephan. “It’s going to take some time.”

▪ Hercules Industrial Park: New York-based ATCO Properties & Management spent $13.5 million to buy about 75 acres on Statesville Avenue from Vision Ventures, in a deal that closed last year. The site includes warehouses and a former Rite Aid distribution center, but its real jewel is a Ford factory that dates to 1924. ATCO plans to renovate and reuse much of the aged facility, which also used to build Hercules missiles.

ATCO executives have been tight-lipped about the project. But a teaser website promises “inspiring space for work, artistic expression, dining and hospitality, entertainment, recreation and community building” in the development, which is being called Camp North End.

“People from across the Queen City will gather, bring ideas to life, connect with surrounding neighborhoods and push the rules on innovation amid soaring open spaces, steel beams, wooden trusses, generous windows and wood-tiled floors,” the website says.

Terry Shook, an architect and planner who’s created vision plans for North End, said remaking the Ford factory offers the chance to preserve and reuse a piece of Charlotte’s history people don’t know about.

“We complain about our history being torn down,” said Shook. “Well, by golly, that’s some real history.”

▪ Dillehay Courts: Just north of Vision Ventures’ holdings, the Charlotte Housing Authority said it’s “reviewing potential options for the site.” No plans for the subsidized apartments have been finalized, a spokeswoman said.

Shook said the biggest question for the North End is whether developers will work together and create a cohesive area or develop the area piece-by-piece, as happened in South End, and just focus on “delivering product” rather than good design.

“Is it going to just happen in chunks?” said Shook. “Or is it going to full its promise and become a great urban neighborhood?”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Learn more: Town hall meeting set for Thursday

City Council members Patsy Kinsey and Al Austin are hosting a town hall Thursday, Feb. 16 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, 1600 Norris Avenue. They’ll be discussing development in the North End, with representatives of some major property owners and developers available.

Attendees can contact Kim Oliver to RSVP at koliver@charlottenc.gov or (704) 336-2180.

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