New restaurants and shops have changed the face of Charleston’s Upper King Street, but the next wave of development rolling up the peninsula will bring something else — lots of people.
Hundreds of apartments and hotel rooms are rising on Upper King and Meeting streets, and hundreds more are planned.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Thomas Read, who sells high-end stereo equipment from the eclectic, 100-year-old Read Brothers store at King and Spring streets. “We’ve got a store, so we need people.”
And they are going to get them, with a 300-room hotel and a 200-apartment building going up on King and Meeting streets at Spring Street.
“When that hotel is built, they will be right across the street from us, and that will help everyone on the block,” Read said.
One block north, Evening Post Publishing Co., parent company of The Post and Courier, is working on plans to redevelop nearly 12 acres along King and Meeting streets.
With the development boom that’s going on, Read is considering renovating apartments on the third floor of the Read Brothers building, which have been vacant since the 1940s.
Nearby, at Reeves & Son Shoe Repair Shop on King Street near Cannon, owner Doris Dixon said more foot traffic would be good for business, particularly if those feet are wearing quality shoes that need new heels and soles, but Dixon also misses the way King Street used to be.
It was once a place with department stores where downtown residents could do their shopping, and neighborhood shops featuring items such as wigs and gospel sheet music.
“They took away all the stores we can shop in — Woolworth’s, Kress,” Dixon said. “We, the merchants and the people who live in the city, need a place where we can shop, and not just buy a drink.”
A growing number of dining and drinking establishments has contributed to a vibrant nightlife on Upper King, but the new apartments and hotels could make the streets more lively at all hours.
“Right now, retail has had a tough time on Upper King because the daytime foot traffic has not been strong,” said David Grubbs, who is in charge of commercial real estate firm NAI Avant’s Charleston office. “That’s going to change.”
NAI Avant is handling the ground-floor commercial space at the Elan Midtown apartments at Spring and Meeting streets, next to a Piggly Wiggly store built in 2005.
“One thing we have targeted for the commercial space at Elan is services, rather than food and beverage,” Grubbs said. “I think you’ll see more things like dry-cleaning drop-off, corner grocery stores, and some professional office space.”
One year ago technology company PeopleMatter announced it would partner with PrimeSouth Group and relocate its headquarters to Upper King, bringing 265 jobs and a nearly $19 million capital investment. Grubbs expects to see more demand for office space as the area continues to redevelop.
Reeves & Son is a reminder of the way it used to be, back when most men’s dress shoes were made to be repaired rather than discarded, and when Upper King Street was the shopping district for the once predominantly black community in what used to be called “uptown.”
The city’s demographics have been changing, with the population on the peninsula dropping significantly since 1980, even as the area attracted millions of tourists annually. Just 31,123 people lived on the peninsula in 2010, down from 43,165 in 1980, and just as significantly, the racial makeup of the peninsula was reversed during those 30 years.
The population was close to two-thirds black in 1980, and is two-thirds white today. Gentrification, rising downtown rents supported by a large demand from college students, and a broader national trend of urban black families moving to the suburbs are all believed to have played roles in the population changes.
Now, the increasing development of apartments in the area now called Midtown could raise the population and further influence the racial and economic makeup.
Read said real estate agents have dropped by his three-story building several times.
“They told me Upper King Street was the hottest rental market in the city,” he said.
In the East Side community, across Meeting Street from the construction sites of the Elan Midtown apartments and a 120-room Holiday Inn at Woolfe Street, some residents are upset to see eight-story buildings rising so close to their homes, according to Edward Jones, vice chairman of the neighborhood group Eastside Community Development Corporation.
“When these developers come in, they really need to talk to people in the community more,” Jones said. “What they are doing right now, I never thought I would see it in my lifetime because that was never an area for hotels.”
Some community residents are worried that development will cause their taxes to rise, he said, although property tax increases have been limited since 2006 when South Carolina revised property tax laws. Other residents hope development will mean more places to shop and work.
The changes are coming soon, as hotels and apartments near completion.
For now, over at King and Spring streets, “nobody comes up this far because there’s not much on the rest of the block,” said Read.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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Michael Mitchell Gallery hosted an opening reception for artist Marissa Vogl during the Upper King District Fall Design Walk on Thursday.×
Circa Lighting introduced its updated showroom during the Upper King District Fall Design Walk on Thursday. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)×
Doris Dixon of Reeves & Son Shoe Repair Shop on King Street remembers a time with King Street was vibrant with businesses that catered to essential needs. Now, King Street, Dixon said, is lined with bars.×
A construction crane dominates the sky line of upper King Street. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)×