Redevelopment has begun to arrive along a once-blighted corridor in North Charleston, but there's still a ways to go before Reynolds Avenue regains its earlier reputation as a vibrant economic hub.
In the past three years, this short, urban street has welcomed new restaurants, nonprofits, advocacy groups, a motorcycle apparel shop, catering company, bakery and other businesses.
But it still has a handful of vacant lots and empty buildings, vivid signs of what the area used to be during its mid-20th century heyday.
Still, the gradual pace here may not be a bad thing.
The slower things come along, the more time that community nonprofits like Metanoia have to ensure that the corridor remains diverse and reflective of its surrounding neighborhood, said the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of the organization. If it changes seemingly overnight, the odds are slim that the community will get to participate, he noted.
“Slow and steady progress is actually the way we prefer," Stanfield said.
Reynolds was once a popular spot, featuring a mixture of bars, churches other businesses. But integration and the closure of the former Charleston Naval Base in 1996 all played a role in the corridor's gradual decline.
Today, the strip is sandwiched between two thriving areas — East Montague Avenue in North Charleston and downtown Charleston. Most remain confident that the growth in these spots will eventually converge at Reynolds.
It's not a question of whether revitalization will come, it's a question of how and when.
Here's a look at 17 buildings on the strip and their current uses.
The area's potential has piqued the interests of people like Mike Veeck, former co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs.
Veeck purchased the building at 2000 Reynolds Ave. years ago, confident the two-story structure in the heart of the street could help bring the neighborhood back to life.
The building operated as a pharmacy and ice cream shop for 50 years, serving as a gathering place for many of the area's residents. It closed in 1993 and has been vacant for 25 years, but that will soon change.
The structure underwent a major renovation and currently includes five commercial spaces and four apartment units. An outdoor gathering space was established for community events, along with an upper deck overlooking the street.
Many consider that Reynolds is still part of a "food desert" due to the lack of a major grocery store nearby, and the area also lacks a drug store. Veeck envisions both as options for the site.
Veeck, who helped established the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park in the late '90s, noted how the Charleston RiverDogs ball site serves as a gathering place for residents and community. He anticipates the same thing for Reynolds.
“I think there's going to be a day when people are going to shut down Reynolds for street fairs," he said.
The revitalization efforts has seen some other key successes along the way:
- In the spring, community leaders reached an agreement with Frontier Logistics, a transportation and warehousing company planning a 556,000-square-foot warehouse on Reynolds, to keep truck traffic off the street.
- Lowcountry Local First, a nonprofit that advocates for local businesses, worked to get a formal business district established along Reynolds. This discourages chain restaurants from coming to the neighborhood, with exceptions for grocery stores and pharmacies, and it encourages small-business owners to set up shop.
- LLF also recently partnered with Metanoia to launch a 12-week Community Business Academy under the Good Enterprises program. The academy helps small-business owners cultivate their ideas and skills.
Two of the academy's students will soon move their bakery business into the old Dean's building. Daddy's Girls Bakery will offer an assortment of chewies, cupcakes and chocolate-covered fruit.
It's been a priority of Lowcountry Local First and Metanoia to bring in minority business owners. The arrival of Daddy's Girls Bakery, run by an African American couple, sends a message of hope that the area will bounce back, said Good Enterprises Program Director Raquel Padgett.
"It's beginning to come alive again," she said.
But there's still work to be done. The city has not acquired ownership of the strip, along with Spruill Avenue, from the state. North Charleston officials hope to obtain these roads from the state Department of Transportation in order to make road improvements that the state won't, at least not anytime soon.
Though that hasn't happened yet, Mayor Keith Summey is pleased with the pace of things. He noted that affordability remains a top concern.
“The big job is going to be how do we maintain and make sure gentrification doesn’t come with that," he said.
Business leaders are also paying close to attention to affordability.
Ed Sutton, president of the Reynolds Avenue Area Merchants Association, noted it's still cheaper to live and do business on Reynolds than up the street. Commercial leasing on East Montague runs around $26 per square foot, compared with Reynolds, which is about $16 per square foot, he said.
Sutton also co-owns the company renovating the 2000 Reynolds building. He added that one studio apartment at 2000 Reynolds will be rented out at $800 monthly.