The State Newspaper: Is North Main the next downtown hot spot?
BY JEFF WILKINSON
April 18, 2015 08:50 PM
Updated April 21, 2015 12:37 PM
Main Street is bustling. The Vista is booming. Bull Street is looming. Is it finally time for North Main to shine? Long the stepchild of downtown’s renaissance, the 5-mile-long stretch of Main Street from Elmwood Avenue to I-20 has been a corridor of promise, but not much progress, for decades.
Now, the lower part of North Main from Elmwood to the railroad trestle at Earlewood Park is set to pop. It even has a name: NOMA.
“There’s definitely momentum,” said real estate broker Chris Barczak, who renovated the 13,000-square-foot Trestle Building and in January leased much of it to the eclectic furniture store Carolina Imports.
As Main Street’s revitalization stretches toward Elmwood, many are saying it is inevitable that it will jump Elmwood into NOMA. But NOMA’s success might not depend solely on Main Street’s fate.
With the Vista increasingly filling up with chain stores and restaurants – and with the gentrification of North Main’s in-town neighborhoods and the incremental improvements in Eau Claire farther north – NOMA is being eyed as a destination for more-local, less expensive development.
Carolina Imports was displaced by renovations to the former City Market Antique Mall on Gervais Street in the Vista, where it had been for a dozen years. The mall is being converted into restaurants and apartments. “We needed a sort of warehouse,” owner Eva Bradley said. “It’s hard to find that downtown and (it) be affordable.”
In addition, three NOMA properties recently have been placed under contract, according to several sources, two of which are planned for restaurants – a sit-down brick oven pizza restaurant and a barbecue joint. Also, it is said a Walmart Neighborhood Market could be heading to the former Jim Moore auto dealership site, in the first block off Elmwood Avenue.
The new eateries – if they happen – will join long-standing and lone-standing Lamb’s Bread vegan restaurant, the 3-year-old craft beer and wine shop across the street called Vino Garage and North Main Bakery.
Other than that, the street is pretty much a clean slate. The reason for the interest is the affordability, ample parking – many of the lots are car dealerships abandoned for decades – and the more than 2,000 residents of the gentrified neighborhoods of Elmwood Park, Earlewood, Cottontown and Keenan Terrace, who are within walking distance.
“People here will support what’s going on,” Lamb’s Bread owner Folami Geter said. “But there’s nothing happening yet.”