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The Gold District: It's An Area 'In Between'

Uptown: Where many old buildings are torn down and built up again. South End: Similar story. But somewhere in the middle, south of Bank of America Stadium and north of Wilmore, a pocket of land with industrial-looking businesses and quiet streets has big plans that include using what is already there.

There is not much to look at yet — one might ignore the area altogether when driving through, if it were not for a brewery and a sprinkling of bars, a hot yoga and MMA studio and an ice cream shop.

Magnolia Emporium owner Randolph James has an interior design store on Lincoln Street in The Gold District.
Magnolia Emporium owner Randolph James has an interior design store on Lincoln Street in The Gold District.

The areas surrounding Uptown are mostly well-defined by this point, with strong branding in South End, NoDa and Plaza Midwood. But the Gold District is flying under the radar. Developers there are aiming to make this part of town as recognizable as NoDa. Some even said they can steal the unofficial “Arts District” title away.

NoDa is historically known as The Arts District because of its plethora of galleries and twice-monthly art crawls that became famous in the 1990s; it still features art in bars, restaurants, shops and galleries as well as public art everywhere. South End has angled for its position in the arts community as well, boasting the largest concentration of art galleries in the city and its monthly gallery crawl.

Over in the Gold District, a few murals are on buildings around the community, with many more in the works. On Lincoln Street, Magnolia Emporium owner Randolph James commissioned a mural of the Gold District itself outside of his interior design store, and he features rotating artists at his shop.

“I actually probably have the lowest commission rate in the entire city,” he said. “We actually lose money from it annually, but I look at it as an advertising expense.”

The Gold District board recently obtained a Transit Supportive zoning overlay for the area, which allows all of the industrial building owners to rezone as mixed-use for a total of $9,500.
Magnolia Emporium in The Gold District

“It’s supporting the community, because we don’t have an Arts District,” said James, who is a member of the nonprofit Gold District board. “We want this to be the true Arts District; we want it to be the official Arts District. That’s something I’m already branding now with hashtags and tying into anything that we’re doing — #CharlotteArtsDistrict.”

“After we’re done with it, this whole place is going to be a walking gallery,” James said.

Considered a pocket of South End, a tale of the past (did you know Charlotte was once a gold-mining city?) is being spun into a story of a future ripe with live-work-play energy. Hidden tunnels and streets of gold are celebrated here. Most of the history lies underground, yet an above-ground movement has begun quietly building steam over the past few years.

“It’s one of our best opportunities to take advantage of the adaptive reuse of all the wonderful buildings that are there,” Charlotte Center City Partners Senior Vice President and Chief Planning and Development Officer Cheryl Myers said. “Unfortunately, in Uptown we’ve torn down all the ground-floor space that accommodates restaurants and shops. The Gold District still has some of that kind of space.”

The Gold District board recently obtained a Transit Supportive zoning overlay for the area, which allows all of the industrial building owners to rezone as mixed-use for a total of $9,500. This is typically the cost for one rezoning, and about a third of the property owners took advantage of this.
The Gold District board recently obtained a Transit Supportive zoning overlay for the area, which allows all of the industrial building owners to rezone as mixed-use for a total of $9,500.

The Gold District board recently obtained a Transit Supportive zoning overlay for the area, which allows all of the industrial building owners to rezone as mixed-use for a total of $9,500. This is typically the cost for one rezoning, and about a third of the property owners took advantage of this.

The board’s president, Caren Wingate, said she envisions the area becoming a sister neighborhood to San Diego’s urban walkable playground, Gaslamp Quarter. Mint Street will become the area’s Main Street, ideally with a sign that arches across the roadway to welcome visitors, Wingate said. Restaurants, apartments and retail will line pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets, leading visitors to and from Uptown and South End.

According to South End’s 2030 Vision Plan, which will be released next month, the Gold District holds a “dynamic mix of uses and potential for strategic infill and structural upfit.”

An Area In Between

“The Gold District is more of an idea than it is a physical manifestation,” Stantec urban planner Craig Lewis said. Stantec is the principal author of Southend’s Vision Plan and is working with the Charlotte Department of Transportation to recommend improvements of bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure in South End.

“What gives it its history has either been removed or it’s underground. So when you drive around the Gold District today, there are only a few buildings of character and almost none of them have any tie back to the history of it being The Gold District.” 

Moving forward, Lewis said branding is important in this area that does not necessarily have good definition.

“It helps to create it as more of a destination.”

There is an abundance of vacant and underdeveloped land just waiting to shine. “One of the recommendations in the vision plan is to have very specific elements in the public realm: streetscape elements, different kinds of lighting, crosswalks, art to help define it in a different way than the rest of South End,” Lewis said. “It’s an area in between. It’s an area that’s being discovered pretty quickly.” 

Wingate Advisory Group commercial broker and development consultant Caren Wingate and 5 Points Realty broker Liz Millsaps Haigler are Gold District board members. Mint Street, shown here, will become the area’s Main Street, Wingate said.
Wingate Advisory Group commercial broker and development consultant Caren Wingate and 5 Points Realty broker Liz Millsaps Haigler are Gold District board members. Mint Street, shown here, will become the area’s Main Street, Wingate said.

A property owners’ association has been established, and the Gold District board is in the process of filing for a merchants’ association. Original investors, many of whom are commercial investors, brokers and developers, are still involved with the growth of the area. Flores & Associates’ Mario Flores has a third building under construction at Church and Palmer streets. Kal Kardous owns the Metrolina Baptist Association building on Carson, as well as the buildings occupied by The Unknown Brewing Co., Walker-Zanger, Magnolia Emporium, Craft Tasting Room & Growler Pub and Seoul Food.

Wingate's organization is working with property owners to bring more retail and creative spaces to the neighborhood.

Canadian-based Larendale purchased a collection of buildings on Morehead Street between Mint and Church streets. Those buildings, leased by Whiteside Industrial Properties, will most likely be used for retail, Wingate said.

Mangus Capital Partners, a New York-based company that focuses on mixed-use and multifamily development, purchased property at West Bland and South Church streets earlier this month for $4.25M. Whiteside represented the seller, Bob Poffenbarger LLC, according to The Charlotte Observer. Wingate said the property will be renovated into a mixed-use building.

There are 1.3 acres for sale at Mint Street and Carson Boulevard, listed at $5.25M and slated for mixed-use.

“There are no more bargains, but we look forward to seeing more residential and hospitality-anchored mixed-use redevelopments in the future,” Wingate said. “As existing metal buildings become obsolete, properties will redevelop. Organic development is key here.”   

“We don’t want to lose the area’s identity to homogenous development,” Wingate said. “We will work to maintain and enhance the hard-working, heavy-lifting heritage of this neighborhood.”