The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery opened its doors in 2009 in a nameless, sparse area inhabited by industrial buildings. When I was a kid growing up in Charlotte, Yancey Street was just the nondescript road my Dad would drive down to drop off his natural gas payment.
Times have changed. Here’s a boozy breakdown of what’s happened in the area in the eight years since OMB opened:
- 2009: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery opens on Southside Drive.
- 2014: OMB moves to space across the street on Yancey.
- 2014: Sugar Creek Brewing opens in former OMB space.
- 2015: Doc Porter’s Distillery opens.
- 2015: Broken Spoke/Great Wagon Road Distilling opens.
- 2017: GoodRoad Ciderworks opens.
- 2017: Queen Park Social opens.
While the neighborhood is officially called York Road after the former name of this part of South Tryon Street, it is claimed by residents of Brookhill, Colonial Village, Southside Park and Sedgefield. Lately the names Queens Park and LoSo have been thrown around to try to label the area.
This concerted effort to label the district stems from the momentum we’ve seen over the past eight years.
The area has seen adaptive reuse unlike any other place in the city, and that will continue into 2018 as White Point Partners works to rehab and renew the Bowers Fibers Mill buildings on the corner of Old Pineville and Yancey. (Rumor has it that a new brewer will be signing on to further extend the growing entertainment district.)
But for all the great things happening in the area, it still has one major problem: Bad pedestrian infrastructure.
I recently decided to try a neighborhood brewery hop using only my two feet, and see how the area has changed first hand.
Outside of the Rail Trail, South End is harrowing from a pedestrian perspective, with narrow sidewalks and fast moving cars.
Once I got to the Scaleybark Station area — the closest station to LoSo — things escalated from harrowing to dangerous. Despite the amount of change the area has gone through, the pedestrian infrastructure hadn’t progressed much since the days I’d ridden through with my dad 15-20 years prior.
The walk from the station to OMB was about 5 minutes of sidewalk, and 8 minutes of walking in the middle of the Yancey Street watching my back for fast moving cars. I felt vulnerable even in the daytime, especially considering the beers I had enjoyed at the previous breweries. I can’t help but imagine what I’d be like to walk to the train station at night.
Since I made that walk, LoSo has established a neighborhood shuttle that runs from Scaleybark Station to each of the entertainment destinations, and that helps make the area safer, but it does not excuse the lack of sidewalks.
Late last year the Charlotte Department of Transportation put out a lengthy Charlotte Walks Pedestrian Plan, which states this objective: “Charlotte will be a city of streets and neighborhoods where people love to walk. Charlotte will provide a pedestrian experience that is safe, useful, and inviting.”
But that pedestrian experience isn’t happening in this burgeoning entertainment district.
With even more developments on the horizon, the area will be seeing permanent residents and offices workers for the first time. It’s time to act in order to make this area safe for all pedestrians.
I can’t blame CDOT. These streets were built next to warehouses and meant to accommodate trucks, not people and entertainment. That said, it’s time for the city to prioritize a complete pedestrian overhaul of the area. Yancey and Southside, in particular, are wide streets with plenty of room for new sidewalks, and maybe even on street parking.
Charlotte Observer development reporter Ely Portillo recently spoke to Janette Sadik–Khan about the efforts she took to make improve Manhattan’s pedestrian landscape. What really struck me was this section:
Sadik-Khan emphasized that unlike transit projects with billion-dollar budgets that require huge new right-of-ways, many streets can be modified with paint, lane striping and the common materials transportation departments have already.
“You can accomplish a lot just by using what you have on hand,” said Sadik-Khan. “It’s not rocket science.”
She pointed to Times Square, which New York blocked off with simple traffic barrels and initially filled with lounge chairs from a nearby hardware store.
“If you see something that you think might work on your street, try it out,” said Sadik-Khan.”
This kind of idea would work great in this area: Establish pedestrian friendly zones on the streets and see how it benefits the area. We should be giving as many people as possible a reason to leave their car behind and walk.
Photos: CharlotteFive file