What Does The Return To In-Person Classes Mean For Charlotte Businesses?
The new school year is underway. Unlike this time last year, most students in the Charlotte area have returned to in-person classes, and that means changes for some area businesses. For more, WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks with Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, one thing I'm thinking about is with kids back in classrooms instead of at home, that means parents don't have to be there to supervise them at home anymore. So does that mean more people are returning to the office, now?
Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, that's a good question. I mean, we've always sort of had that dynamic at the end of the summer where parents are watching the kids during the summer, then they ship them off to school for six or seven hours a day, and they get some of that time back. And some of that for working parents, it is valuable time.
The problem right now, of course, Marshall, is a lot of offices are closed or on a hybrid schedule because of COVID. I do think it will encourage more parents to put in some of that work time that they haven't been able to get to with the kids at home. But, yeah, whether that's actually in the office or working from home or some sort of other arrangement kind of remains to be seen.
Terry: Well, what else does the return of students to classrooms mean for businesses?
Mecia: A few things there. There are a whole bunch of businesses that are related to school. I mean, you have tutoring businesses. You have businesses that sell school supplies for the classroom. At The Ledger, we talked to a consultant who works with retailers, and looking at what that was going to be like for this year. And they were expecting huge increases in people spending on technology, on online enrichment services, school supplies, of course.
Terry: You report the city of Charlotte's planning staff unveiled a new timeline and proposed rules for duplexes and triplexes recently. What did you find out?
Mecia: Marshall, you'll remember the big debate a couple of months ago was over the city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which was a vision of how Charlotte should grow over the next two decades. It was fairly contentious, passed by a split vote of the City Council. That was really sort of the vision. And now the city is turning its sights toward how to make that happen. And it's something called a Unified Development Ordinance. It's really the nitty gritty rules of how that's going to take place.
You'll recall that some of the debate and discussion in the spring and summer was over this issue of allowing duplexes and triplexes into single-family neighborhoods. They outlined, first of all, a timeline for getting this Unified Development Ordinance passed. They said the first draft is going to come out in October. Plenty of time for debate and discussion, and then they would like a vote by the City Council in July of next year.
But they did also give a little bit of a preview of what those rules are going to be as it relates to duplexes and triplexes and single-family neighborhoods, saying that they intend that duplexes and triplexes would be allowed on any lot in a residential neighborhood. They would be allowed to have accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs, which are in-law suites in the backyard, only on lots that have single family homes. They would quadraplexes on arterial streets if they had affordable housing. And at the height of these units would be determined based on the height of surrounding buildings. So you wouldn't have huge, tall monstrosity triplexes right next to a shorter single-family house, for example.
So they're starting to lay out some of those rules. It might sound a little arcane, might sound a little boring, but there's going to be a lot of interest in it, I think, within neighborhoods, because it really is sort of helping determine how the city is going to grow.
Terry: I want to stick with a development for a moment. There's a push among some residents of NoDa to make sure that that neighborhood doesn't become more like South End. Why exactly would it become more like South End? And what are residents opposed to?
Mecia: Yeah, I talked to a few residents out there recently, and there is a big rezoning going on on 36th Street near the corner of 36th and North Davidson, which is the heart of NoDa. A lot of changes in NoDa, like everywhere else, I suppose. You have the light rail line extension going through there and there have been a number of big apartment complexes that have gone up near the light rail line.
And so some of the residents now are starting to say, well, look, we know this area is redeveloping and we get that. We just don't want the whole neighborhood to be overcome by large apartment complexes, because they say you're going to take away from the neighborhood character, which has always had as its root, sort of an artistic, funky vibe. You know, there are a lot of murals and independent businesses. They say they don't really want that "frat style" atmosphere and more "dorm rooms," as they call them, coming to their neighborhood. They'd like to see some of that character preserved.
That's going to be a tension, I think, Marshall, we're going to see playing out more and more all over the city as the city grows and you get the pressure for more housing units. How do these neighborhoods hang on to their distinctive character? So, something to watch there in NoDa that really resonates, I think, all over the city.
Terry: Finally, Tony, the Epicentre, with its nightclubs, bars and restaurants, was once the hub of uptown nightlife. It's now in default and largely vacant of businesses. What's to become of it?
Mecia: We're taking steps toward, I think, getting an answer toward that. There was a court hearing this week at which the representatives of the Epicentre and the lender to the Epicentre were both there sort of discussing the future and what's going to happen. The problem is that they had a lot of tenants that moved out over the last couple of years. There were some high-profile shootings there in 2019 that I think had a perception that it was unsafe. Some of the tenants that closed didn't pay rent.
Eventually it's going to be handed over, I think, to the lender and then the lender will decide whether to sell it and redevelop it, whether to try and get more tenants in there in its current form. It seems like something has to happen there. It's a pretty high-profile site. You know, everybody wants to know what's going to happen. No real answers at this point.
Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.