Streetcar praised for economic development potential

Test runs for Charlotte’s new streetcar began Tuesday morning.
Test runs for Charlotte’s new streetcar began Tuesday morning.

When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and local leaders gathered to cut the ribbon for Charlotte’s first new streetcar line Tuesday, they praised the project for its economic development potential more than its transportation potential.

The 1.5-mile starter line, running from Time Warner Cable Arena to Novant Presbyterian Hospital, is meant to spark new development and revitalize run-down areas. The next phase will extend west along Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road past Johnson C. Smith University, and advocates hope to eventually see it running further east and west.

Although it will move people from Point A to Point B, officials were clear that they hope it will be a powerful force to spark development.

“Nothing in the 2030 (transit) plan is just about transportation,” said Foxx, former Charlotte mayor. “This transit asset is not just about transportation.”

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said the streetcar will hopefully reorient the traditional view of development in Charlotte from its north-south axis and bring more investment to the city’s east-west corridors. The idea is that the streetcar will cause the same kind of boom that the Blue Line light rail, which opened in 2007, started in South End.

“The Charlotte Lynx Gold Line is a catalyst for economic development,” said Charlotte City Council member Patsy Kinsey.

Some early development is already materializing. Grubb Properties, which owns about 12 acres along Elizabeth Avenue, is restarting long-delayed plans to overhaul the street, which was one of the routes for Charlotte’s original streetcar lines.

Grubb is planning to build up to 550 apartments at the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and North Torrence Street, on land that’s currently vacant. The development will include up to 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and construction is set to start by second quarter 2016.

Last month, the Knight Foundation pledged $1.5 million towards revitalizing the western part of the streetcar route, in the area around JCSU. The group cited the streetcar as the main impetus behind the investment.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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