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Charlotte Business Journal senior writer Ken Elkins profiles Lincolnton as "enjoying a burst of redevelopment, a retail renaissance. Something...is going on in Lincolnton's downtown..."
By Ken Elkins – Senior Staff Writer, Charlotte Business Journal
Mar 28, 2018, 1:35pm EDT Updated Mar 28, 2018, 2:03pm
Lincolnton Mayor Ed Hatley at first likes the word “renaissance” when describing all the development and renovation going on downtown in the Lincoln County county seat.
Then when he hears “paradigm shift” he latches on to that phase. It is an election year, after all, in the only incorporated city in Lincoln County, and Hatley is excited that craft beer is coming to Lincolnton.
“Everybody loves beer,” says Pete DeGregory, owner of the planned Tavern on the Square restaurant, pub and black-stage theater coming to a historic building on East Water Street downtown.
Something — a metamorphosis, a resurgence or even a paradigm shift, whatever you want to call it — is going on in Lincolnton's downtown. At least a dozen projects — brewpubs, antique and collectible shops, townhomes and loft apartments, a butcher shop and deli, a brick-oven pizza shop, restaurants, an interior design studio, an events-planning place and even a mermaid tail manufacturer — are planned there.
“It’s a renaissance,” says And Lynn, executive director of the Downtown Development Association. “We want to see more excitement” in downtown Lincolnton, he adds.
But, you may ask, why now? Why has the core of Lincolnton picked 2018 to host this frenzy of redevelopment and new construction?
There are three answers: a 2016 change in the city’s rules on bars and brewpubs, a collection of city grants to support small business and entrepreneurs, and an entirely new philosophy on building-code enforcement in the city.
“The code has not changed but the attitude has,” says Laura Elam, Lincolnton planning director, explaining that third reason why a renaissance has hit downtown.
“We have changed our philosophy about investing in the community,” says City Manager Steve Zickefoose.
Here's a little background:
A few years ago — before the paradigm shift — DeGregory and his wife, April, picked a building downtown for their restaurant. After a year of delays, the couple gave up. They couldn’t get the idea through the city planning process, which at that time was administered by Lincoln County code inspectors.
Fast-forward to this year, and DeGregory’s Tavern on the Square restaurant, pub and theater is cruising through the approval process. No, inspectors and planning folks aren’t allowing substandard renovations to take place, Elam says. Instead of a “no, you can’t do that,” inspectors say, you may want to do this instead.
In June 2016, Lincolnton voters approved a change in the bar and breweries statute. Before, establishments that sold beer, wine and mixed drinks had to derive most of their revenue from food. The new 2016 rule changed that to allow freestanding bars and brewpubs.
“I’ll drink to that,” Mayor Hatley says during a round-table discussion this week about Lincolnton’s renaissance.
And finally, there are the city grants. Lincolnton now has façade, entrepreneur, small-business, architectural-aid and other matching grants for starting a business in Lincolnton. One program provides six months’ free rent for certain types of business startups.
But the story of Lincolnton’s recovery dates to 2008 and the Great Recession,when industrial development in the Charlotte satellite cities did a paradigm shift downward. Lincoln Economic Development Association and Rhonda Hunter were challenged to promote small-business and entrepreneurial development as well as industrial jobs growth.
Hunter broke away from her industrial project development duties and created the Lincoln Entrepreneur Growth Group, which encourages an “entrepreneurial approach to economic development.” Now she works closely with small businesses and entrepreneurs to help bring their plans to life.
Craig Upshaw, principal at Piedmont Cos. Inc. in Lincolnton, is encouraged enough by the changes in downtown that he’s planning two huge projects. One would bring new construction to three sites downtown to total 37 townhomes. That project is valued at about $6 million.
Nearby, Upshaw is redeveloping the former Eureka Mill into a space for John Brinsfield’s 3 PM Brewing Co. in Lineberger Square. Beer brewing starts first at the 24,000-square-foot site, but eventually, co-founder Fritz Steckler will use his culinary skills for a restaurant on the site.
Now here’s the best part of this story of redevelopment. Twins Abby and Bryn Roberts will start making their wearable mermaid tails in a building on South Popular Street downtown.
It’s called Finfolk Production and the twins already have a thriving business selling mermaid tails made overseas.