City News

Even in blight, he sees opportunity

Although Rick Phillips is a successful businessman, he sounds more like a gambler.

He's bucking a real estate adage that says location is critical to success, and he's betting that a stretch of East Independence Boulevard, plagued in recent years by business closings, is going to turn around and flourish again.

He's spent more than $2 million renovating a building that formerly housed the Capri Theatre, turning it into an elaborate dining and concert theater called Stir.

Stir opened about four months ago. It's a place unlike anything else in Charlotte in terms of the variety it offers. It caters to the 25-and-older crowd, and provides a wide range of entertainment from jazz to comedy to live music. Last month, R&B legend Howard Hewett performed there. This month, popular go-go band EU held a concert. About three weeks ago, actress-singer Mya hosted a birthday bash for local DJ Consuella.

Phillips and his wife are the owners. They moved here about four years ago from Washington, D.C. With Charlotte gaining national attention as a fast-growing city, they decided this would be an ideal place for the kind of entertainment venue they had in mind.

They owned a Stir on North Tryon, but it closed after a bank bought the building where it operated and turned it into a parking lot, Phillips said.

In opening Stir on Independence, he's faced some roadblocks, red tape and naysayers who ask: Why choose a spot in an area visibly on the decline?

“Why not this part of the city?” answers Phillips. “Eventually it will grow and we can have an impact on the growth … and be a part of that growth when it happens – and it's going to happen.”

Stir is about a stone's throw away from the Eastway Drive overpass and next to the old Coliseum Shopping, which is filled with abandoned stores. Urban decay has replaced a once-vibrant stretch of East Independence, caused mostly by the construction of an impassable concrete median stretching from uptown to Sharon Amity Road. With more construction planned, more business closings are expected.

However, such a gloomy forecast doesn't deter Phillips.

“I think Independence Boulevard is a sleeping giant that will one day awaken, and it will be hard to buy a piece of property over here.”

Part of Phillips' optimism is rooted in studies he said that the area is poised for a turnaround. Also, he's seen it happen before. Phillips said there were neglected areas of D.C. that also experienced an economic rebirth.

“What I see is … opportunity,” he says. “There are a lot of buildings sitting there (empty) that will rise to be something special.”

Stir is located at 3500 E. Independence Blvd. Details: www.stirnc.com.

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