Even after a decade of development, South End’s history as an industrial center is plain to see.
Scores of low-slung warehouses and shop still line the cross streets between South Boulevard and South Tryon.
In the first phase of South End’s transformation, these sorts of buildings were torn down and newer, shinier ones erected in their stead.
[Agenda story: South End’s troubled environmental past still haunts development]
But over the past few years, a new trend has emerged: Rehabs are back in style.
Developers are increasingly interested in renovating and repurposing boxy older buildings in South End and other neighborhoods in transition.
A prime example is Seoul Food. Whiteside Industrial took a boxy 1980s-era photography lab and turned it into one of the hottest restaurants in Charlotte.
These buildings don’t necessarily have any historical significance or character. The desire to preserve rather than demolish often comes down to price and speed.
And it often doesn’t take a whole lot to convert older buildings: a little paint, some roll-up doors, LED lighting.
“In the old days, we imploded everything,” said Stephen Overcash, principal of Overcash Demmitt Architects. His company is frequently called upon to design the renovations. “Most of these we’re doing, they would have been a knockdown 5 years ago.”
Rehabbing can be up to a year quicker.
Overcash has had a front-row seat to this the trend over his 30 years in the business in Charlotte. His office is tucked off South Tryon Street in view of several new apartment developments underway.
Rehabs still make up a small piece of his business, around 15 percent. Much more of his company’s work is in designing hotels.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Charlotte’s big banks drove development and influenced its style. Banks wanted everything new and shiny, Overcash said.
These days, industrial chic is more in style. Tenants from coffee shops to clothing stores like buildings with that kind of feel and a story behind them.
At the same time, the city has become more understanding about helping developers get older buildings up to code.
When starting from a shell of a building, it can be a year quicker to get permits and up and running than it would with new construction.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of vision”
Nick Lischerong, co-founder of TIN Kitchen and a prominent real estate developer, is one of the more prolific building rehabbers in Charlotte.
His crown jewel at the moment is Graham Street Pub & Patio, which opened last week in a renovated old office building by BB&T Ballpark.
But he’s also marketing several other older buildings around the South End area as future homes to trendy tenants.
Lischerong said he’s always been interested in adaptive reuse since the beginning of his career, when his family spent time updating old mills. He takes pride now in being able to save a whole lot of material from ending up in a landfill, and preserving some of Charlotte’s history.
It takes more mental energy to complete the project, he said, but the tenants he works with appreciate having a building with a story behind it.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of a vision for them,” Lischerong said. “But they’ve got good bones.”
Don’t count on this trend from slowing down anytime soon.
Even several years into the latest phase, South End still has a lot more to do.
Overcash says there are also plenty of older buildings ready to be renovated in FreeMoreWest, North End and Oakhurst.