There’s a new nightlife hotspot in Mecklenburg County that may surprise you: Matthews.
What used to be a sleepy suburb is transforming itself into a destination for those looking to avoid uptown or South End. And now there are plans to turn an old warehouse in downtown Matthews into restaurants, offices and shops.
Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins WFAE “Morning Edition” host Marshall Terry with more on this and other business news for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, several people the Ledger spoke with describe Matthews using terms like "hip" that really would've been unimaginable just a decade ago. So, what's driving this change, and is it something that will happen in other Mecklenburg suburbs?
Tony Mecia: Yeah, well, Marshall, you know, it's really interesting to see in some of these places like Matthews where you're having, you know, population growth that we're seeing all over the place, that they're really starting to take on characteristics that you're seeing in other urban parts of town, you know: South End, uptown. In Matthews, you do have a lot of the same kind of trends — maybe not quite on the scale that you have in uptown and in the close-in neighborhoods, but you're seeing, you know, old warehouses being converted. You're seeing, you know, they have an urban park, they have plans for light rail. They're getting a second brewery. There's talk about a rooftop bar.
I mean, these are all things that we're seeing really in other parts of town that some of the suburbs now are seen as quite attractive. So, you know, I think this is something that you're starting to see a little bit more of throughout Mecklenburg County, throughout the region. And yeah, I think it's certainly going to continue.
Terry: And we're not just talking about millennials here necessarily that are being attracted to Matthews, but older demographics, too, right?
Mecia: No, our writer with the Ledger went out there on a Saturday and said, you know, there are a lot of people out there on the sidewalks in their 40s and their 50s. It's not necessarily the young person's hot spot, but that actually, frankly, Marshall, I think is some of the appeal. We talked to somebody who said, "It's great out here. It's not a bunch of people in their 20s. This is a hip place." One of them told us that it has, they describe Matthews as having European flair. That's not something you typically associate with Matthews or a lot of these suburban environments.
Mecia: Let's go to uptown now. Charlotte Center City Partners recently released its state of the Center City report. Now, that's sort of like the State of the Union for uptown. You spoke to the head of the organization, Michael Smith. What did he say?
Mecia: Well, you know, there's a lot really to celebrate in uptown and South End and that area. There's a lot going on, and he stressed that, you know, a lot of the growth that uptown has had, that the remarkable thing about it is how balanced it is. It's not just apartment towers. It's not just office construction. It's not just new hotels or nightlife for entertainment. It's really all the above. And he sort of said it's sort of clicking on all cylinders in really all facets of it.
Now, he was also quick to point out that it's not all necessarily rosy all the time. You know, you have a big section of Trade Street being torn up for the streetcar. You have other issues with traffic. You have issues surrounding affordability. He did say, you know, that that's being addressed by the city and by corporate leaders. But by the numbers, things are going pretty well. The pace of growth in uptown and South End is certainly pretty rapid.
Terry: Let's stay in uptown for a second. You report there's something different about the office space in the new Bank of America Tower at Legacy Union. What is it?
Mecia: Yes, this is a new trend we're starting to see really in the last few years toward flexible office space. Bank of America's offices in the Bank of America Tower at Legacy Union — yeah, this is on the old Charlotte Observer site, South Tryon at Stonewall — they have no assigned desks, so you go in there, they have workstations where you can work at a computer. They have quiet areas. They've got common areas, conference rooms. But where you walk in and where you work every day, it could be very different.
So, we're seeing a lot of employers, not just Bank of America by any stretch of the imagination, a lot of tech companies do this. You're seeing more employers go toward this model. They say it values more flexibility and collaboration. You know, it's also a way to save money on real estate costs because you don't need quite as much space per worker.
Terry: Is this something that is geared more toward millennials and younger workers? I can just imagine maybe some of the older people in the workforce may not go for this sort of thing.
Mecia: Yeah. You know, had some reaction to the piece that we had in the Ledger earlier this week where people were saying, "Well, what about, you know, oh, I have to share a keyboard. What about germs? You know? Well, people are talking on the phone loudly." I mean, there's a whole, "Where will I put the pictures of my kids? Where do I put all the storage?" I mean, there are certainly concerns.
But, you know, companies say that this is really sort of reflective of how people work these days, that in a typical office setting that, you know, not everybody's always in at the office. You have people traveling, you have people working from home, and so they say it can be a smart way to organize an office, although certainly there are some concerns about it as well.
Terry: Finally, you found that an Indian Trail town councilman has criticized plans for a 65-townhome project in his community, saying it's too much like Charlotte. So, what did he mean by that?
Mecia: Well, yeah, this is a story that was in the Union County weekly last week that said that the developer had proposed a four-story apartment complex there near Indian Trail's downtown, ran it by a bunch of council members who were pretty cool on the idea, said, "Listen, we don't want to be like Charlotte. If we wanted to be like Charlotte, we would live in Charlotte."
And so, I think that's really reflective, Marshall, that there are places in the region that, as much as those of us in Charlotte see all the growth, there are a lot of places that really, really don't want that, and it's going to be really interesting for places like Indian Trail because, you know, the growth is certainly coming that way toward Union County as it is toward many different directions. So, I think there's a feeling out there that, "We want to be the anti-Charlotte. We don't want to be like Charlotte." And you see some of that in some of the growth of these other counties.