Aug 21, 2018 - Business

Gaston County’s development is poised to explode

Charlotteans have historically made their neighbors to the west the butt of many a cruel inside joke.

Yes, Gaston County has developed more slowly than the suburban counties on Charlotte’s north, south and east. It’s still lower-income and more rural.

But in the coming years, any lingering negative image is poised to change. Gaston County appears to be on the verge of a major economic boom.

Tony’s Ice Cream in downtown Gastonia. [Agenda story: In defense of Gastonia]

Capitalizing on Charlotte’s growth

Part of that economic boom will inevitably come as Charlotte’s growth moves westward — the one direction that’s been the slowest so far.

The city of Charlotte has put forward plans that would extend light rail from Uptown, past the airport, and across the Catawba River into Belmont.

One of two options for light rail transit through west Charlotte into Gaston County.

Major developers are planning a massive new mixed-use community on the Mecklenburg-Gaston line called the River District that has been described as the next Ballantyne. That growth will almost certainly spill over to the other side of the Catawba River.

Same goes for the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Even as the city of Charlotte looks to develop thousands of acres around the airport, Gaston County leaders are planning to capitalize on that growth as well.

Just this summer, the Greater Gaston Development Corporation published a report outlining how Gaston County could position itself as an extension of that development.

Over time, Gaston would work to build more bridges over the Catawba River to the River District in Mecklenburg County and extend mass transit from Belmont through the rest of the county. Closer in to Belmont and Wilkinson Boulevard, there would be opportunities for retail, entertainment and dining.

Farther out, Gaston County plans to encourage logistics, distribution, advanced manufacturing, warehousing, agribusiness and food processing and trucking.

Image by MDX and the Gaston County CLT Airport Connected Economic Positioning Strategy.

A revitalized downtown

But Gaston County also has several initiatives to build on its own strengths.

The highest profile is the Fuse District, the shorthand name for the Franklin Urban Sports & Entertainment area on 16 acres just west of downtown Gastonia.

Much like the city of Kannapolis, Gastonia is looking to spur major investment built around a minor league baseball stadium. The city bought the land and approved demolition of aging structures on the property back in 2016. They’re now working through the federal brownfields program to help clean it up environmentally.

Gastonia will spend $13.5 million to build the baseball stadium. Private developers are lined up to spend $15 million on the site of the old Trenton Mill, turning it into 75 apartments and retail.

Then in the future, the plan is for more private developers to buid apartments, restaurants, office space and shops.

Speaking of old textile mills…

Gaston County has several that are serving as the bones of ambitious new developments

Besides the Trenton Mill, two other historic mills are going through significant rehabilitation.

The first is the Osage Mill in Bessemer City, which spans 260,000 square feet and is turning into 150 apartments and numerous retail stores and restaurants. Development is expected to begin at the end of this year.

The Osage Mill site in Bessemer City.

The centerpiece, however, is the Loray Mill. The former home of the world’s largest textile mill in one building is now one of the most ambitious historic rehab projects in the region.

The six-story building has 189 loft apartments and a massive 80,000 square feet of retail space — including a Growlers USA today. The complex includes a museum that lets Gastonia newcomers know about the history of the mill and the bloody 1929 strike that catapulted it into the national consciousness.

From mill town to manufacturing and mining.

As the mills get repurposed, so too is Gaston County’s economy.

Last year, Gaston College dedicated a new Center for Advanced Manufacturing near Dallas. In Belmont, a new coworking and innovation hub called TechWorks of Gaston County is soon to open.

Farther west, Piedmont Lithium has already bought 1,200 acres and is weighing half a billion in investment to rebuild a lithium mining operation.

Image via Piedmont Lithium.

Build it and people will come.

All this is already increasing demand for real estate in Gaston County, beginning with Belmont and heading westward.

Now standing at $178,700, the median sales price for homes in Gaston County is up more than 11 percent year over year, according to data from the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. That’s more than twice the rate of increase of Mecklenburg County and far outstripping the region as a whole.

Graph from the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association

Once confined to the area around Lake Wylie, home sales of more than $500,000 are now becoming more frequent in Belmont, according to Zillow.

Still, homes and acreage are still significantly cheaper in Gaston County than they are in most other areas of the Charlotte region.

Will that change? With the volume of economic development in the works, it’s certainly possible.


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