Plaza Midwood construction project stirs concern and positive potential
Construction crews prepare for new parking spaces on Commonwealth Ave. in the heat of the afternoon on July 25.
CHARLOTTE — The city’s hippest neighborhood is getting a makeover. Come fall, parts of Plaza Midwood will have new public parking, redesigned sidewalks and new landscaping, thanks to a $4.1 million construction project funded by voter-approved city bonds.
As of press time, workers were still digging up parts of Commonwealth Ave. between Thomas Ave. and Pecan Ave. When done there, construction will move to The Plaza.
Reaction to the project has been mixed, though many business owners and customers are looking forward to the changes. Expanded parking options will provide the biggest boon for local business.
“I think it is going to be really good,” says Curtis Tutt, a co-owner of Petra’s, a Commonwealth Ave. bar popular with gay patrons. “It will take away all the claimed parking spaces that people are towing from right now; [they] won’t be able to tow anymore, so all the spaces will be available for all the businesses.”
Tutt says parking has been issue for their business in the past.
“We only have a few spaces in front of our building, but the hours we are open most of the other businesses are closed but … they were still towing,” Tutt says.
Co-owner Jerry Brown says parking concerns have lessened over recent years as new business owners have been more willing to share their spaces. He’s more excited about the project’s potential to increase pedestrian activity.
“I would hope that it would make this whole immediate neighborhood more walkable and that people wouldn’t feel like they need to pull right up in front of [a business] to go in,” Brown says. “I hope that foot traffic will increase. Right now the foot traffic is basically people going to The Diamond or coming from The Penguin. I hope it will make more of a ‘crawl’ atmosphere.”
Fortunately, the construction frenzy hasn’t had an effect on neighborhood walkers right now. Josh Villapando, manager at Plaza Midwood’s Common Market, says the pedestrian traffic continues to flow in to his convenience store. Drivers, though, are steering clear.
“[The construction] has definitely slowed down daytime business,” Villapando says. “Because we’re not on a main drag, people have been avoiding Commonwealth Ave.”
Above and beyond business matters, Villapando says he’s personally concerned about the effect the new construction will have on Plaza Midwood’s grungy charm and character.
“I haven’t noticed any construction in Charlotte that has helped preserve the history of Charlotte,” he says.
Brown is less concerned about the parking project’s negative effect on the neighborhood.
“I’m not as worried about this project stripping away the character of the neighborhood as much as I am the apartment complex going up on the corner,” Brown says of The Edison, a planned 53-unit apartment complex at the corner of Pecan and Commonwealth Aves.
“To me, [the complex] is stripping away character because the character is in the type of businesses that are here and that whole culture.”
Barry Pettinato, a nearby resident, says he hopes new infill housing like The Edison doesn’t affect convenience, especially as new restaurants and other establishments like the new Jackalope Jack’s location at Pecan Ave. and Gordon St. open up.
“Right now, if [my partner] and I just want a quick bite to eat, we go down there to park and it’s so easy,” Pettinato says. “I’m a little concerned with what’s going to happen with parking when the density increases a bit. Maybe people will still be able to find places to park and it won’t affect the neighborhood that much. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Tom Russell, a city engineering project manager, says the new pedscape and parking project will increase total available parking in the area.
“When we started the project there were 64 existing private spaces affected by the project,” Russell says. “When we finish the project, there will be 87 public parking spaces and 20 private spaces … with a net gain for the whole project being 43 spaces.”
Is it enough to satisfy demand? Brown isn’t sure.
“There are clearly not enough parking spaces for [The Edison],” Brown says. “If people have a two-car household or roommates, then one person will take a parking space in the building and the other will take public parking. That defeats the purpose of this whole thing. On the tail end of this very expensive project, they approved a huge complex with inadequate parking.”
Despite their concerns, Tutt and Brown say the city has been responsive.
“They’ve been really involved with Plaza-Central business partners and the foreman has made himself available; he’s given us his cell phone number,” Brown says. “I think they’re trying to maintain a really good working relationship with people who have a stake in what they’re doing.”
Tutt anticipates a positive return-on-investment for business owners in the area. If new parking proves more convenient and walkability increases, Petra’s will benefit.
“It will bring the sidewalk closer to the front door,” Tutt says. “Instead of being 15 or 20 feet away, it will be closer to the front door and when you get a little closer to see what’s going on in here hopefully it’ll be more likely you’ll come inside.” : :
[Ed. Note -- An error in the initial version of this article incorrectly noted the number of units in the planned Edison apartment building at the corner of Pecan and Commonwealth Aves. The building will have 53 units. This article has been updated and a correction will be included in our Aug. 18 print edition. We regret the error.]