A New York developer wants to breathe new life into a historic industrial park off Statesville Avenue north of uptown. Camp North End would be a creative hub, with offices, apartments, shops and restaurants, as well as space for light industrial and educational uses.
As old factory sites go, the Hercules Industrial Park between Statesville Avenue and Graham Streets just north of uptown is full of fascinating stories.
“This site has this really amazing history of innovation. When Henry Ford was here that looked like pioneering the assembly line,” said Varian Shrum, community manager for ATCO, which bought the 75-acre site last December for about $17 million.
Workers built Model Ts here beginning in 1924. During World War Two, it was a U.S. Army Depot. The Army made Hercules missiles and military vehicles here during the height of the Cold War. And until last year, it was a massive distribution center for the Rite-Aid pharmacy chain.
Part of Shrum's job with ATCO is to lead community tours of the site - and to talk about that history.
“It's actually been a lot of fun to help people discover the history of Charlotte. A lot of people say we don't have any history. But really I think we just don't have the physical reminders of what's happened here. And by that I mean the historical buildings,” Shrum said.
The new owners plan to keep those buildings, and make the site reminiscent of what it was in the 1920s. ATCO President Damon Hemmerdinger calls it an "innovation hub."
“The idea is to take the most interesting, an intact historic campus right in the middle of Charlotte, and bring it back to an active and productive life,” Hemmerdinger said. “That can include technology businesses, that can include craft manufacturing and other ways that people are innovating in how to produce goods for our economy. So a wide mixture of uses.”
ATCO's plans also call for apartments, offices, shops, restaurants and entertainment. Artists and educational groups are looking at the site. Junior Achievement of Central Carolinas is hoping to move its youth entrepreneurship training center here.
To carry this out, the developers expect some city help – like business recruiting and improvements in streets and infrastructure. They also need a rezoning, from general industrial to mixed-use. Hemmerdinger says the change will help bring in businesses the surrounding neighborhoods lack.
“We're sitting a mile and a half from Trade and Tryon right now, and yet this is a neighborhood with no services for residents, virtually no restaurants or stores. In terms of comparing what a resident in this part of town has to a resident somewhere else in Charlotte, it's a service and retail desert,” he said.
The CAMP North End project fits into broader city initiatives to improve the entire corridor from uptown to UNC Charlotte. The challenge, said city economic development director Pat Mumford, will be to avoid pricing out existing residents - something that's happened elsewhere in the city.
“The answer certainly isn't (to) continue to manage and support growth the same way we have before. So be even more intentional about at least raising these issues to see what the public and private partners can do to offset that negative impact, while still maintaining the positive impact,” Mumford said.
Nobody has all the answers yet. New development nearby has included a mix of market-rate and lower-priced housing. Some other things being tossed around include a shuttle and rail crossings to improve access to the Blue Line for residents.
City Council member Patsy Kinsey represents part of the North End and says her grandfather and aunt once worked at the site. She worries about gentrification, too, but also sees opportunity.
“Well, the potential quite frankly, I hope, will be jobs for people who live in the area,” Kinsey said.
The city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the rezoning next Monday, July 17. Approval could come in September.
ATCO rezoning petition on CharlotteNC.gov
City of Charlotte North End Smart District map and brochure at CharlotteNC.gov