New construction is ramping up rapidly in NoDa, especially on the side closer to North Tryon. Developers say it won’t be long until the neighborhood gets a total makeover just like South End did after the light rail started service.
The light rail extension bisects NoDa into two zip codes: 28206 and 28205. The latter is what you might consider the established part of NoDa — the artsy stretch of North Davidson Street that’s filled with breweries (Heist and Protagonist, for instance) and restaurants (Haberdish and Cabo Fish Taco).
For years, development has lagged on the 28206 side, especially in the stretch that runs from Matheson up to Craighead, bordered on either side by North Tryon and the light rail.
That’s all changing now, though.
Amelie’s French Bakery, for instance, announced last week it’s moving into that area — right near the corner of 36th and North Tryon streets. It’s the first of what will be many new businesses that will be arriving in the neighborhood.
Lured by several factors including the light rail, developers have been buying up large pieces of property nearby. In a few years, apartments, breweries, restaurants and offices will replace aging industrial facilities, longstanding car dealerships and vacant lots.
“It’s getting the South End treatment, but it will be closer to the NoDa eclectic vibe,” broker Rusty Gibbs told the Agenda.
Gibbs last week announced plans to lease an old industrial building that’s being redeveloped by Canopy. It’s next to the Sugar Creek light rail station, about a mile north of the new Amelie’s spot. Gibbs’s property will be a “mixed-use destination” with room for a coffee shop/juice bar, brewery, bodega and fitness studio.
“The whole area is going to be unrecognizable in the next two to five years,” Gibbs added.
When Aston Properties said last week it plans to redevelop a former art gallery in NoDa to become the new home of Amelie’s, the local developer also disclosed it had purchased three parcels next to the property off 36th Street this summer.
The other tracts of land are along North Tryon, an area currently filled mostly with used car dealerships and auto body shops. In total, Aston now owns about five acres in the area. The firm is still weighing development options for its remaining land.
George Dewey, Aston’s president and CEO, describes the 28206 area of NoDa as “a canvas” that’s ripe for redevelopment.
“The energy will move in this direction,” Dewey said.
Dewey’s firm specializes in grocery-anchored developments. Aston, for instance, redeveloped the property in South End near Sedgefield for a newly built Harris Teeter, along with other retail including Holler and Dash.
There is a need for a full-service grocery store in NoDa: The closest ones are a Food Lion on The Plaza and a Giant Penny about a block away from there.
Dewey said while he’d like to bring a grocery store to the neighborhood, it might be more feasible in a few years, once more people have moved into the area.
As the saying goes: Retail follows rooftops.
“I think in five years, it’ll be a no-brainer,” Dewey said of bringing a grocery store to NoDa.
Next to Aston’s site on North Tryon, an LLC associated with developer Tony Kuhn of the Flywheel Group in May bought a three-acre site that’s currently home to a used-car dealer called SMS Auto.Kuhn said he is still figuring out his plans for the property, but it will include some kind of retail.
Farther north, near the Sugar Creek light rail station, Kuhn has assembled dozens of acres over the years for what will be something of a small town center for the area. Called the Greenway District, the area will include multi-family housing, retail and office space.
One of Kuhn’s properties near the light rail station is called Station House, and it’s home to The Shed amphitheater and Charlotte Art League. Both were pushed out of their respective former locations to make way for new development.
“We’re kind of starting with the arts and entertainment focus, then we’re very quickly going to follow it with places to live and places to work to make it a whole integrated place,” Kuhn said.
Near Kuhn’s district is the 18.5-acre site of the Metromont concrete plant, which closed a few years ago. Charlotte City Council gave the green-light to a major redevelopment on the site in June. Developer Greg Godley of Sugar Creek Ventures plans a mixed-use project filled with apartments, retail and offices.
Larken Egleston, a city council member who represents District 1, called the project a “poster child” for transit oriented development. The city says TOD zoning is intended to “create more vibrant, interesting, and sustainable transit station areas.”
There are several factors at play that make this area in NoDa attractive to developers.
Light rail: Just as breweries, apartments, restaurants and, most recently, corporate offices sprang up all around South End after the light rail started operating, developers attracted to NoDa because of the light rail. The extension, which runs from Uptown to UNC Charlotte, began service in March 2018.
To make way for the new rail, Norfolk Southern tracks had to be elevated to a bridge in order to allow 36th Street to pass underneath. The street was closed off to the bustling heart of NoDa for over four years. It finally opened last October, roughly two years later than was originally planned.
The prolonged closure of 36th helped staved off development and activity in the 28206 area for years.
Ample space: Amelie’s needed a new property that could well serve drivers and pedestrians alike, Dewey said. That was a major draw of the new site, where Aston will more than double the size of the parking lot.
Aston still has 6,200 square feet of retail space available for another tenant after Amelie’s moves in, Dewey said. His firm is still figuring out its leasing strategy for the space, but the tenant could be a business that needs parking, such as a restaurant, fitness studio or medical facility, he said.
“As this community grows and there are more people living here, there are certain services it needs as well. It can’t all just be restaurants and bars,” Dewey said.
Cross Charlotte Trail: This summer, city council approved more than $54 million to complete parts of the Cross Charlotte trail that have already been designed, including parts that run through NoDa.
Developers see the trail as a major draw, the way it has been in South End for pedestrians, bikers and scooters.
Opportunity zones: Part of the 2017 tax reform law includes tax incentives for investors to buy land in certain underserved areas.
There are 17 so-called opportunity zones are in Mecklenburg County, including the now-developing stretch in the 28206 zip code.
The opportunity zone designation brings “added attention to the corridor,” said Egleston, whose district includes NoDa and Plaza Midwood. The designation isn’t the only factor that would draw developers to an area, though, he said.
“They’re more like icing on the cake for something that would be a good deal anyway,” Egleston said.
Skeptics of opportunity zones, however, say they accelerate gentrification in low-income areas.
Oftentimes, long-established businesses and residents alike are forced to leave an area as developers move in. The city has made tackling affordable housing a priority, especially in fast-changing areas.
But a lesser-discussed problem is commercial gentrification. That’s what happens when businesses, oftentimes minority-owned ones, are forced out of their space.
That was the case at the City North Business Center, just over a mile away on North Tryon. Dozens of tenants who’d paid below-market rent were forced to vacant their longtime spaces after Artesia Real Estate purchased the building The Austin-based firm is renovating the 200,000 square-foot facility for new office and retail tenants.
Tackling commercial gentrification is becoming more of a concern, Egleston said.
“It’s always a double-edged sword when you have that growth in development,” he added.