What's In Store

Old churches and factories see new life as restaurants. They bring the ‘cool factor’

An old church at 1212 The Plaza is being renovated and turned into a southern-style family restaurant called Supperland.
An old church at 1212 The Plaza is being renovated and turned into a southern-style family restaurant called Supperland. kperalta@charlotteobserver.com

In Plaza Midwood, an old church is being rehabilitated into a southern-style restaurant called Supperland. Over in NoDa, a 119-year-old former mill house is being renovated and turned into a family restaurant called The Goodyear House. And Optimist Hall, a massive former pantyhose factory, is getting a major makeover to house an Indian restaurant, cocktail bar and brewery.

All over Charlotte, historic buildings are being rehabilitated and given new life as restaurants and bars. Adaptive reuse, the process of refurbishing an old building for a new purpose or tenant, bucks the tear-down trend for which Charlotte is often criticized.

Developers are doing this for several reasons.

For one, preserving the character of an old building adds to a sense of place, according to Greg Pappanastos, president at Argos Advisors. That’s especially important in Charlotte’s increasingly crowded restaurant industry, Pappanastos said.

“To remain competitive, to retain employees, (we’re) placing more of a priority on the quality of the space,” he said. Character of historic buildings, he added, can’t be manufactured. “It comes with something that’s been worn and scratched and beat up over time.”

For instance, Pappanastos re-did a 1960s-era warehouse for The Dunavant, a restaurant in South End. Argos is also planning to refurbish Savona Mill, an 180,000-square-foot former cotton mill built in the 1900s in Charlotte’s West End, to make way for office space, a culinary incubator kitchen and more.

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Interior of the Savona Mill Argos Real Estate Advisors

Developers are also turning to adaptive reuse because people in Charlotte have bemoaned the razing of historic buildings in recent years. In late 2015, a long-vacant, 1930s-era church on Central Avenue was torn down to make way for hundreds of apartments in Plaza Midwood, for instance.

Jacob Norris, a partner at Manor & Park, which specializes in historical adaptive reuse, said Charlotte has “bulldozed a lot.”

Over the last five years or so, Charlotte has seen a surge in adaptive reuse projects because people are demanding that developers try to preserve some of the city’s history, Norris added.

“Charlotte as a whole has struggled with creating a sense of authenticity,” Norris said. “We try to listen to what communities want. We really try to provide the base framework, then bring in tenants the build out their vision while preserving integrity of the space.”

Neither cheap nor quick

Manor & Park is redeveloping the 1950s-era church at 1212 The Plaza in Plaza Midwood. It’ll be home to Supperland, a restaurant and cocktail bar owned by Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel, the couple behind popular NoDa restaurants Haberdish and Crepe Cellar.

Brown and Tonidandel plan to preserve as much of the 7,500-square-foot building’s historical charm as possible. It’ll keep its original exposed concrete walls and wooden ceiling beams, for instance, while new chandeliers and fresh white molding will be added to the main dining area. The church’s center aisle will remain, and in place of the altar will be a chef’s counter and wood-fired cooking area.

“We’re in the Bible Belt. You don’t have to have religion to know it’s still an interesting part of the history of this area,” Brown said of rehabbing old church buildings.

“(Developers are) starting to hold onto things. I think people see the value in that.”

One other rehabbed church that’s gotten new life is in Dilworth. The restaurant Bonterra has operated for 20 years in a church that was built in 1897, owner John Duncan said.

An old church at 1212 The Plaza is being renovated and turned into a southern-style family restaurant called Supperland. Katherine Peralta kperalta@charlotteobserver.com

Holding onto old buildings isn’t always the cheapest or fastest option, though.

In NoDa, A.J. Klenk, owner and managing partner of Charlotte’s Capstone Apartment Partners, is giving a little green former mill house on North Davidson Street a major facelift. It’ll open this fall as The Goodyear House, a family restaurant/neighborhood hangout.

Klenk estimates he’s spending 15% more to rehab the old house than he would by knocking it down and building a new house.

“You go inside when you’re framing and beside every old board there’s a new board. You’re basically propping up the home and rebuilding it from the inside out,” Klenk said. “You find things along the way that slow down the process.”

The Goodyear House under construction at 3032 N. Davidson St. Alex Cason Photography

‘A cool project’

Adaptive reuse is on the rise nationally, according to a recent report from the CCIM Institute, a Chicago-based commercial real estate research organization that examined properties in Charlotte, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta.

“AdRu” projects make up between 1-2% of all commercial real estate space in the U.S. today, according to the report. That figure will likely increase to up to 4% over the next five years.

Adding buildings to the National Register of Historic Places is one way to preserve them.

Charlotte Fire Station No. 4, on West Fifth Street, for instance, was named to the register in 2017. The building is where former Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson plans to open a restaurant called 4th Ward Fire House. Another is the VanLandingham Estate, where owners last week said they planned to restore the property and add two adjacent commercial buildings.

Developers are looking to old buildings for corporate office space, too.

This year, Duke Energy opened an innovation center at Optimist Hall, a starkly different atmosphere than the company’s corporate headquarters in the second-tallest building in uptown Charlotte. In 2016, Google Fiber opened its local office in the Philip Carey Building warehouse, which was built in the early 20th century for a roofing material manufacturer.

Corporations are moving into rehabbed warehouses for similar reasons restaurants are — for the trendy atmosphere.

“Developers want to do a cool project. It’s not just about making money,” Klenk said.

Last month, Duke Energy moved about 400 employees into its 83,000 square-foot space at Optimist Hall, a renovated former textile mill near NoDa and Optimist Park. Katherine Peralta kperalta@charlotteobserver.com
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As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.