North Carolina's Main Street and Rural Planning Center announced last week that 52 communities across the state received national accreditation for their commercial district revitalization projects and economic development strategies.
Those 52 towns and cities join the 800-plus other communities across the U.S. to earn spots in the 2021 Accredited Main Street America program, which is graded on the management and performance of local downtown development programs. The standards cover historic preservation efforts, public and private support, mission statement quality, training for staff and volunteers, and more factors.
Since 1980, North Carolina's main street programs have generated $3.62 billion in private and public investments, according to the NC Department of Commerce. Last year alone, downtown districts created 260 new businesses, nearly 100 business expansions, 1,262 jobs, and nearly 650 facade and building rehabilitations.
Of the 50-plus towns and cities that secured national accreditation this year, six are located within 40 miles of the center of downtown Charlotte.
Below, we'll highlight the downtown revitalization projects and other economic development initiatives happening in a handful of communities along the outskirts of Charlotte's metropolis:
A 30-minute drive from the center of Charlotte, the quaint city of Belmont is home to over 12,550 residents and has experienced decent population growth of 22.8% over the past decade, according to 2019 Census estimates.
The city sits between two river bodies, the Catawba River and the South Fork Catawba River—making it a hot destination for outdoorsy types who enjoy kayaking, canoeing and rafting.
The downtown area is peppered with several public art projects, including a flower piece made from recycled water bottles, art-wrapped utility and electrical boxes, and a colorful greeting mural.
Several major development projects are underway. The Imperial Lofts, on-site of an old mill built in 1907, is a mixed-use development with nearly 4,000 square feet of office and commercial space and nine residential units. A separate Imperial Mills Development will include a 30,000-square-foot commercial building, several multi-family buildings totaling nearly 400 residential units, and more space for civic use.
On the transportation front, Belmont is set to be a key beneficiary of the proposed 26-mile light rail project extending from the city to the center of Charlotte to the Town of Matthews, potentially extending further. It's also planning a connecting corridor and roadway design linking Belmont to neighboring Mount Holly.
A trolley project is underway as well. The renovated trolley car, originally built in 1912, will run from downtown Belmont to Belmont Abbey College.
Last year, Belmont kicked off its Rocky Branch Park trail enhancement project to improve the trail navigation system, create connecting pathways and nodes, upfit the trails and update its signage.
The city recently approved a new road development project on the South Fork Parkway, which will include roadway improvements and a new 2.7-mile natural surface trail along the South Fork River. The area is also the site of the future South Fork Senior Community.
Located about 30 miles west of Charlotte in Gaston County, Bessemer City is home to about 5,577 residents, according to 2019 Census estimates. Its population has seen a slight uptick over the last decade, growing 4.7% since 2010.
This year's Main Street America accreditation was awarded to Bessemer City Downtown Development, a group of volunteers that organizes, designs and promotes the town's downtown development initiatives.
One ongoing project taking place in Bessemer City is a 150-unit apartment building and 30,000-square-foot retail and commercial space in the historic Osage Mill. The textile mill operated from 1896 to 1995, closing during the tail end of the textile industry collapse that ravaged North Carolina towns. The Osage Mill development represents a $32 million investment and is expected to attract over 400 new residents—a 10% increase in the city's population.
Bessemer City's SouthRidge Business Park is just a short drive from the downtown area. Spanning more than 420 acres, the manufacturing and distribution hub is occupied by fruit and vegetable brand Dole Foods, lithium materials supplier Livent, industrial services provider Manufacturing Services Incorporated, pipe and fittings manufacturer Advanced Drainage Systems, car parts maker Dhollandia, and more companies.
The largest of six municipalities in Cabarrus County and known as the home of NASCAR, the City of Concord brings a rich history to the Charlotte metro area. Located about 30 minutes by car from downtown Charlotte, Concord houses 96,341 residents and has seen its population grow over 21% since 2010, per 2019 Census estimates.
A three-part, mixed-use development is currently underway in downtown Concord: Novi Rise will feature over 150 apartment units and 3,300 square feet of commercial retail space when it's complete in mid-2023. Novi Lofts, slated to open in late-2023, will include 84 apartment units and over 7,000 square feet of commercial space, a rooftop restaurant, an outdoor patio, a restaurant lobby and more. And Novi Flats will feature 43 apartment units and nearly 5,000 square feet of commercial space when it's complete in early-2023.
In 2019, the city approved a streetscape project to add new sidewalks, travel lanes, parking spaces, brick accented sidewalks, street trees and landscaping, space for public art and outdoor dining, and more additions to the Union Street area.
Another expansion project kicked off in 2020 to modernize the 250,000-square-foot historic Cabarrus Courthouse.
In March, the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opened its doors in downtown Concord. Located in the old Cabarrus Savings Bank building, the space offers flexible, short-term leases for entrepreneurs, startups, small business owners and creatives as they work to get their ventures off the ground.
Later this year, the city will open its newly renovated Old City Hall Annex building to house nonprofit offices, retail, restaurant and office space, patio seating, and more.
Known as the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War, the City of Kings Mountain is committed to historic preservation with a downtown-area battle memorial, museum and signage evoking its Patriot victory against the Loyalists in 1780.
Featuring a mountainous backdrop along the Crowders Mountain State Park, Kings Mountain spans Cleveland and Gaston counties and is home to nearly 10,300 residents, according to 2010 Census data.
The city's five-year downtown revitalization plan comes with two strategies: "To create a pivotal lifestyle center for the community that offers authentic locally owned shopping and dining, live entertainment venues," and "to create a pivotal lifestyle center for the community that offers multi-generational housing options."
The plan aims to bring new life to the downtown streetscape, develop new residential and commercial units and improve sidewalk and street connections to increase mobility.
In 2020, the City of Kings Mountain unveiled a series of new projects, including renovated apartment units above a downtown commercial space, a retail space in a historic building and several new restaurants, the Shelby Star reported last year.
Monroe is one of the more populous towns bordering Charlotte, with nearly 32,800 residents in 2010. Its population has grown by 8% over the past decade, with 2019 Census data estimating that about 35,540 people now live in the city.
The city has a heavy presence of manufacturing, logistics and agribusiness companies. It's boosting its tourist appeal with a $7 million renovation of its historic Dowd Center Theatre Downtown and is transforming an old grocery store into a 16,000-square-foot Monroe Science Center, which is set to open this September.
The City of Monroe has spent millions of dollars on renovations and facade improvements, downtown festivals and jumpstarting industrial and retail activity.
Monroe received a major boost in 2018 when it opened the Monroe Express, a $731 million bypass spanning 20 miles to Charlotte.
As a part of its main street revitalization mission, the town aims to create a "lively mix of quality retail shops, professional services, restaurants, entertainment, and upper-floor residential space, providing a variety of opportunities for a distinct cultural experience," it says on its website.
Monroe hosts monthly Music on Main and Car Cruise-In events from June through November.
Located just over 20 miles south of Uptown Charlotte, the burgeoning town of Waxhaw is enjoying significant population growth as the Queen City's newcomers increasingly prefer to live outside of the metro area. The town's population swelled nearly 73% over the past decade, from 9,859 in 2010 to 17,147 in 2019, per Census estimates. Evidence of Waxhaw's housing boom can be seen in the amount of new and proposed residential development projects across town.
The Town of Waxhaw recently unveiled a comprehensive growth strategy with pre-zoned areas for downtown retail, offices and light manufacturing spaces, residential housing units, an employment and economic center, and a neighborhood center with offices, public space, community facilities and medium-density housing.
The town is funding several downtown projects, including a $4.3 million park on 9.9 acres of land and a $13 million campus to house its government departments. Waxhaw estimates both developments will be complete in 2022 or 2023. It also has a $120,000 pedestrian bridge and sidewalk wrapping up this year, and more funding reserved for street sign improvements and public parking expansions.
The Town of Waxhaw boasts that 49% of its physical businesses and 45% of its restaurants are located downtown, with more than 100 businesses creating over 150 full-time jobs.
Downtown Waxhaw hosts popular events such as the annual Kaleidoscope Festival and Jammin' by the Tracks concert series. A steampunk-themed grill and taphouse, likely to attract tourists and beer enthusiasts, is coming to the downtown area later this year.