There still isn’t a grocery store in the southern end of North Charleston, much of which officially qualifies as a food desert. There hasn’t been one there since 2015. Plans to open a Piggly Wiggly at the old Shipwatch Square shopping center site fell through almost a year ago.
And so far nobody else seems to have stepped up with an offer.
But it’s not just a grocery store. North Charleston’s southern end has struggled for decades despite its central location, its easy access to major roads and transit options, and its affordability. And it’s frustratingly difficult to pin down a clear explanation.
“If there was one thing, we would have done it. If it was five things, we would have done it,” said North Charleston City Councilman Ron Brinson. “We are really trying to break that code.”
Several high-profile — and high-cost — efforts to revitalize the area have fallen short, even as the northern end of the city has thrived. Most recently, Charleston County Council botched an attempt to renovate the old Naval Hospital on Rivers Avenue. The failure has cost taxpayers $33 million so far, and plans to tear down the existing building and redevelop the property will cost millions more.
But perhaps a total overhaul of the area is too ambitious anyway. After all, a multimillion-dollar investment in a long-neglected part of the city is a risky venture with a significant potential for loss. Smaller, human-scale investments are less disastrous if they fail and less disruptive of the community when they succeed.
“What I see that is a lot different than even 3 or 4 years ago is the amount of interest in the area. It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when,’” said Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia, a nonprofit group working with communities in the southern part of the state’s third-largest city.
North Charleston’s central location coupled with lower housing costs, hip factor make area desirable
And where big projects — like a grocery store — have failed to materialize, smaller investments have met notable success. Take, for example, the CODfather restaurant that opened a few years ago on Reynolds Avenue, an often overlooked corridor that still retains plenty of “Main Street” charm. It’s a place with so much potential.
“People told me, ‘Don’t go there, you’ll never survive,’” said CODfather co-owner Adam Randall in an interview with Post and Courier reporter David Slade.
Those people were wrong. The CODfather was so successful that the restaurant quickly outgrew the Reynolds Avenue space and had to move north on Spruill Avenue.
Other restaurants are popping up around Reynolds Avenue, too. Small-scale affordable housing and community development projects are also in the works. Surely modest investments can continue to succeed in the area and pave the way for further revitalization.
“If you look at Park Circle, it wasn’t an overnight transformation,” said Ryan Johnson, a North Charleston spokesman and economic development officer who listed dozens of city efforts to lift up the area over the last few years. “It’s a lot of little things that add up.”
The slow transformation of North Charleston’s southern end has a silver lining. It gives local officials and community groups the chance to prepare for inevitable development pressure and eventual gentrification.
“We need to look at this community half full, but to do that in a way that is fair to the people who have been here a long time,” said Mr. Stanfield.
He’s right. Redevelopment efforts should prioritize housing affordability, neighborhood preservation and strengthening existing community assets, among other considerations.
Grocery store developers may not be optimistic about North Charleston’s southern end — yet. But there is untapped potential and underappreciated strength in that area. We should start looking at it half full.