Four years ago, Linda Holden bought a 200,000-square-foot building just outside of Uptown on North Tryon Street to house her construction and property-management businesses.
The rundown look of that stretch of road didn't dissuade her as she purchased the building for $5 per square foot – well below the rate she found in other places that close to the center city – and rents out most of it.
Holden now heads the advocacy group North End Partners, which, along with a name change from Tryon North Development Corp., has recently started more actively marketing the area to developers and businesses.
“We're the next thing,” she said of North Tryon. “We're going to be the North End to the (city's) South End.”
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As South End thrives with a mix of retail and housing options, North Tryon remains mostly unchanged. Numerous used-car lots populate the area. Empty, weed-choked lots and boarded-up buildings exist just outside the I-277 loop. At night, groups of people hang out under overpasses and on street corners.
But Holden and others see potential. Nearby neighborhoods such as NoDa and Lockwood have become more popular. Rising Uptown rental rates have business owners looking outside of the center city for better deals.
Perhaps most important, the proposed light-rail extension could run through the area on its way to University City. Because of that, North Tryon could see the same type of development boom as South End. Only decades ago, South End was a rundown portion of town with abandoned textile buildings. But it saw a revitalization, partly because of light rail.
“(In South End), people began to count on the rail happening and began making plans to buy property and just hold it for the right time,” said Tom Warshauer, an economic development manager for the city.
North Tryon, though, faces some problems.
For one, Holden said, many people have a bad perception of the area. Besides the rough scenery, the county's only permanent homeless shelter, Uptown Shelter, sits on the street.
Warshauer said studies have shown that the shelter negatively impacts possible development.
The barbed-wire fences and lack of greenery also hinders the area.
The district's City Council representative, Patsy Kinsey, said conversations regarding North Tryon redevelopment have occurred since she served on the county board of commissioners in the 1990s, but other corridor projects moved ahead of North Tryon.
“It seems like it takes an awful long time,” Kinsey said, “but the light rail would be a huge catalyst.”
Some business owners, such as Chuck Howard of Autobell Car Wash, aren't waiting. Howard three years ago opened on North Tryon one of his 51 locations. “It's an area that's developing and still affordable, and it suited our needs very nicely,” he says.