University City

NoDa businesses: Blue Line traffic will be worth the 2-year closure of 36th

The long-term closure of a popular route from University City and points north into NoDa has many neighborhood businesses focusing not on traffic detours but on the positive changes to come.

The portion of 36th Street between North Davidson and North Tryon streets closed June 16 for Lynx Blue Line extension construction that’s scheduled to last two years.

Many local business owners say they’ve known for years about the closure and that city officials have worked to mitigate related logistical problems.

Details about the closure were included in the June 13 city manager’s memo to City Council members, as well as the June 9 county manager bulletin to commissioners, both available online.

Once construction work at 36th Street is finished, officials said, vehicles headed to or from North Tryon will drive beneath two new rail bridges: one for the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, the other for the Blue Line extension of Charlotte’s light-rail system.

Construction will begin with portions of 36th Street being lowered, followed by bridge construction. Once the Norfolk Southern bridge and tracks are complete, officials said, the Blue Line bridge and light-rail tracks will be installed.

Cindy Hart, co-owner of the Hart Witzen Gallery on 36th Street just off Tryon, said many customers and residents will be glad once vehicle traffic can flow independently of rail traffic, especially on nights with events such as theater performances.

“The train parking on the tracks has been more of an inconvenience (than the road closure will be),” Hart said. “People didn’t know how to go around. … The train would park for a very, very long time, (and) you didn’t know when it was going to move.”

While the street closure may inconvenience some commuters, Hart said, she doesn’t believe the gallery’s traffic will be affected.

“We’ve always been a destination. People didn’t typically walk from Davidson (Street),” she said. “When it’s all said and done, it’ll affect us in a positive way.”

By 2035, officials estimate, the Blue Line extension will carry 24,500 daily passengers on weekdays. More than 10,000 new units of housing – as well as millions of square feet of office and retail space – are projected along the roughly 9-mile extension by 2035.

Many in NoDa say all those people arriving at the station in the arts district is worth a minor, though long-term, traffic detour.

“It’s common sense,” said Chris Wade, general manager of Cabo Fish Taco on North Davidson near 36th.

During the more than three years Wade has been at the NoDa eatery, he said, the business has not paid for advertising but relied on word of mouth and the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” application.

But once the light-rail extension gets going – it’s scheduled to start operations in 2017 – it’s likely the restaurant will put ads in the light-rail cars, Wade said. “People will be looking for destinations.”

Brian Wilson, owner of The Rat’s Nest on 36th – and co-owner with his brother, Mark, of The Thirsty Beaver on Central – has lived in the neighborhood nearly 20 years and owned the vintage store for the better part of a decade.

While the street closure may make his store “a little more isolated,” he said, he doesn’t believe business will suffer, as many customers already come in on foot. A lot of vehicle traffic enters NoDa via North Davidson Street rather than on 36th from North Tryon, he said.

“I think the light rail will eventually connect people (to the area),” he said. “It’s going to be easier to get here in the long run.”