Uptowne tries to build on “buzz”

May. 05, 2013 @ 12:50 AM

The road to opening her own business in Uptowne High Point was a long one for Jill Newton.
After a career in the hospitality and food-service industries, she decided to combine her passion for these areas with her interest in historic preservation in launching a new venture.
She opened Pie and Coffee, a small bakery and coffee shop, inside Vintage Thrift and Antiques at 1100 N. Main St. on April 23. She said she didn’t set out to locate in Uptowne — the area around North Main Street and Lexington Avenue that has been the focus of revitalization efforts the past few years — but it fits in with her goal of providing the community an opportunity to slow down and enjoy a sense of place.
“I could see the potential of not only being in this building, but also being in this area,” said Newton. “There is a buzz about this neighborhood.”
Uptowne boosters say they hope Newton’s confidence in the neighborhood is a sign that it’s becoming ingrained in the public consciousness.
Five years ago, the stretch of North Main Street between Ray and State avenues was dubbed Uptowne by The City Project, the city-funded nonprofit that works to revitalize High Point’s 11-square-mile urban core.
The idea was to improve business in the area and get business owners to work together to market the neighborhood as a destination.
City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe said the trends are positive in Uptowne, with new business openings on the rise, while the amount of available inventory continues to decline.
“We don’t have that much empty space, really,” said Fuscoe. “I think anything that’s got kitchen space would be snapped up pretty quickly.”
Small shops like Newton’s have proliferated, despite traditional barriers that make development difficult in parts of Uptowne. Newton said she initially wanted to prepare food on-site at Pie and Coffee but discovered that the city would require her to install a grease trap, ventilation system and other features if she planned to operate what would be considered a commercial kitchen.
She said she elected to have the pies, muffins and cookies she offers prepared off-site. In addition to regulatory roadblocks, cost is an issue in trying to rehabilitate older properties like those common in Uptowne.
“We do have people call that are interested in restaurants, but when you look at the price to upfit a shell for a restaurant, you have a lot more expense than some of these folks want to put in,” said Fuscoe.
Still, Uptowne advocates have big ambitions for large-scale projects. A highly-anticipated prospect is the vacant building that previously housed Youngs Furniture on North Main Street.
Fuscoe said the site has generated interest from a microbrewery, a local coffee shop, high-end gift store and an Asian restaurant, but there were no firm commitments yet.
In the meantime, Uptowne supporters continue to emphasize the importance of streamlining the city’s planning and permit-approval process.
The master plan for Uptowne and other parts of the city that is being developed by architect Andres Duany will include suggested ordinance changes to make things more business-friendly.
“Part of what’s coming out of this Duany project is not just the vision but the strategy, the implementation — how do we get it done?” Fuscoe said.
Two years ago, The City Project lobbied the City Council to adopt a retail incentives policy, which would have awarded cash grants to small business projects in Uptowne and other target areas. The policy was never enacted but a compromise was reached that set up a facade improvement program that distributed grants for businesses making upgrades to their buildings.
“I think we’d love to see council allocate money for continuation of the facade grant. It was very successful. We’d like to keep that going and add to it,” Fuscoe said.