What I learned at my first groundbreaking

What I learned at my first groundbreaking
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When I drove over to the groundbreaking for the soon-to-be-built Crescent NoDa apartment development, I didn’t know what to expect.

To back up, I drove to the event because, in spite of living just two blocks from the new development, I can’t actually walk there because of the Blue Line Extension construction.

It feels like it has taken and will take forever, but will actually be completed in just another 18 months. Maybe. Hopefully. I feel a rant coming on. I’m going to my happy place for a minute. Taking a deep, cleansing breath and letting it all go. Much better now.



Back to the groundbreaking.

We’ve all seen them in movies and on TV. Men in expensive business suits. Women in fashionable business attire. Wearing those hard hats so they don’t get injured (by what?). All pretending to plunge their shovels into a pile of dirt. Sort of laughing along with the joke that everybody gets. That they are actually doing something to start the construction project along.

Sometimes I get too literal about these things. The people with the shovels actually DO get the project started by putting in the years of background work that take place before the first bulldozers show up.

I’m talking about the developers, the lawyers, the city zoning staff, the City Council members, architects, engineers, interior designers and bankers.

And last, but certainly not least, the neighborhood association volunteers who help safeguard that the new development will fit within the vision that the community foresees for its future.


Here in NoDa, that’s a really big deal.

The NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association (NoDa NBA) analyzes and advises on every development permit for all the building projects being planned for NoDa and adjoining areas.

Believe me, that’s a lot of projects to scrutinize.

I’m not sure why, but I expected to see a celebrity or two at this event. I have no basis for this irrational thought: it’s just my vision of a groundbreaking from what I’ve seen in movies. Would I see Michael Jordan? Maybe Ric Flair. Or would Superman himself, Cam Newton, show??

As I drove over, I talked myself out of this fantasy. Cam is probably on his way to a little game in Santa Clara. Michael is no doubt working his magic to get the Hornets into the playoffs and beyond. And Ric Flair? I have no idea what he’s doing, but probably something more important than pretending to dig a hole.

But this groundbreaking was a little different than the imaginary ones I envisioned in the movie script that plays constantly in my head.

This ceremony was for an important project.

Not just any development, this project, located on the site of the former Chop Shop music venue, will be the public face for a neighborhood poised on the edge of big changes. The Crescent NoDa sits at the epicenter of one of the key public works projects in our city’s history – the billion dollar Blue Line Extension project.

Crescent NoDa will be located where a soon-to-open light rail station at 36th Street meets the historic mill village of NoDa.

So it’s a big deal, even in a city with an explosion of developments in the works and on planning tables.


When I walked into the groundbreaking ceremony, early, it was just me and the professional photographers roaming the grounds.

I watched as a Charlotte Observer photographer who is a friend of mine scouted the location to find the best places on the site and best angles to shoot her professional quality photos. As an amateur, I merely wandered around the site.

Up into the rubble, over near the railroad tracks and into the areas that the bulldozers had scraped clean that same day, snapping pictures of everything that caught my interest, hoping that a few shots would be worth sharing on Twitter.


I was surprised to see a fancy tent erected at the site.

Inside were about 50 chairs and plenty of standing room for photographers, journalists and neighborhood gawkers like myself. I had expected to see about 10 or so people at the event.

But I was pleasantly surprised that more than 100 people attended the ceremony, many of them pouring out of the luxury buses rented to transport VIPs to the construction site and back to Heist Brewery for a celebration afterward.

Now to the groundbreaking.

It started with the speeches. Anybody who knows me knows that I loathe speeches. But I found the four speakers to be engaging – both heartfelt and genuine.

They were passionate about both the place and the project – and the vision that this specific project at this location in NoDa at this exact time could be a game changer.

A symbiotic creative coming together of a community, a huge public transportation project, an adjoining greenway, what appears to be a thoughtfully designed apartment complex and retail space.

Call me a dreamer, but I bought the vision, hook line and sinker.


I especially appreciated the Crescent executives’ praise for the commitment and vision of our neighborhood association, NoDa NBA, and its longtime leader, Hollis Nixon.

The developers praised the commitment and passion of our community and its leaders for insisting on a dream of recognizing the past and current strengths of NoDa and propelling those strengths into a vision of the future that will include a new light rail line, a new adjoining greenway and new residents. Lots and lots of new residents.

After the speeches, there were the shovels. And the hard hats. And that tiny pile of dirt to dig. And the smiles. And the handshakes. And all the pictures. But what I’ll remember most about my first groundbreaking ceremony is greeting and chatting up my friends and neighbors about the huge changes coming to our little village.

I’m cautiously optimistic that the impending changes will inspire NoDa to once again reinvent itself – as it has done so many times over the decades.

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