The Lockewood neighborhood is only about 1 1/2 miles north of uptown Charlotte, but it feels far removed from the sparkling high-rises and busting restaurants and bars.
Bordered by North Tryon and North Graham Streets, it is in a troubled corridor that for years has been plagued by crime and poverty.
Last year, an organization called neighborhoodscout.com, owned by Worcester, Mass.-based Location Inc., issued a report that ranked the corridor the 11th most crime-ridden neighborhood in the country.
Many of the homes are blighted, and there’s a large transient population, along with homeless shelters in the area, which also includes neighborhoods such as Tryon Hills, Druid Hills and Optimist Park.
None of that has stopped some in the real estate industry from investing and working in those communities, which industry officials say are composed of several historic neighborhoods with turn-of-the century bungalows on shady, tree-lined streets.
Still, there’s no question that real estate agents and developers are facing challenges when it comes marketing and selling properties in this area, which continues to suffer from a bad reputation.
Lane Cloninger grew up in Charlotte’s affluent Quail Hollow neighborhood. After graduating from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, he returned to Charlotte and founded The Cloninger Group.
Looking for real estate opportunities, he turned his attention to Lockewood.
Where others saw crime and poverty, he saw potential, and he bought a house on Keswick Avenue in 2006. His plan was to renovate it and others in the area and sell or rent them.
“I was one of those builders who went in with a big dream,” he said. “I was putting all my eggs in one basket praying that this neighborhood, due to its proximity to uptown Charlotte, was going to blow up one day.”
His plans got off to a rocky start. Being one of the few white people in the neighborhood, Lane said, there was racial tension, as some residents thought he was trying to gentrify the neighborhood.
Shortly after he moved to Keswick, his house was broken into, he said. Not long after that his car was stolen.
Then, in 2008, someone was murdered in his front yard during a drive-by shooting while his girlfriend was there by herself, he said.
Despite all of that, Lane stuck it out. He befriended Chris Dennis, president of the Lockewood Homeowners Association, got active in community events and became vice president of the HOA.
But he was also growing frustrated by the lack of progress. He said that for years the Charlotte Fire Department was supposed to build a new headquarters at the Five Points intersection of Dalton Avenue, Graham Street and Statesville Avenue, but the fire station has yet to appear.
Rich Granger, spokesman for the fire department, said construction on the 38,000-square-foot, $9.5 million headquarters is scheduled to start on the five-acre site in the first quarter of 2012 and be complete by the end of 2013. In November, voters approved a bond package that included $9.5 million to redevelop the North Tryon thoroughfare, but so far nothing has come of it.
In early September, Cloninger and his wife moved out of Lockewood into the Dilworth neighborhood. But Cloninger is quick to point out that they didn’t leave out of concerns for their safety. They simply prefer Dilworth, where they can walk to restaurants, bars and the grocery store.
“There are still bad eggs in Lockewood,” he said, “but over the past couple of years the neighborhood has changed dramatically, and the police have worked with the community to eliminate a lot of the crime.”
Cloninger is also still heavily invested in the neighborhood. He estimates that during the five years he lived there, he renovated and sold about six homes in the area, including one on Sylvania Avenue that he sold last year for $230,000.
He owns about eight or nine rental homes in the area and about six months ago put on the market a new 3,900-square-foot, five-bedroom house he built at 303 Sylvania Ave. It’s priced at $349,000.
“It’s by far the most expensive house in the area,” he said. “I still believe in the neighborhood and think it has as a good future.”
Mike Feehley, an agent with My Townhome Realty, has had an 18,000-square-foot warehouse at 200 West 30th Ave. on the market for about eight months.
Feehley said the price of the property in the Tryon Hills neighborhood just off North Graham Street was reduced in September to $680,000 from $700,000.
“We’ve shown it about a dozen times,” he said.
It’s his only listing in the area.
Feehley said he thinks the North Tryon Street corridor has a lot of potential. But most people can’t see beyond its rough-looking exterior, he said.
“I understand people’s hesitation,” he said. “It’s a difficult perception to overcome.”
But Feehley said the area’s proximity to uptown and easy access to the interstate should make it a no-brainer for investors.
Feehley said the average listing price for single-family homes in the North Tryon corridor is $87,304, and the average rent is $853.
Edwin Wilson and his business partner, Mike Doney, launched 5 Points Realty, a Charlotte real estate brokerage firm, in 2008.
Since it was founded, the company has focused on the North Tryon corridor.
“We’re one of the few Charlotte brokerages who have knowledge and expertise in that area,” he said.
Like others who work in the area, he compares the historic neighborhoods in the corridor with communities, like Plaza Midwood and NoDa, that were once blighted and undervalued until investors came in and helped revitalize them.
Still, he admits it can be a challenge convincing investors to consider neighborhoods like Lockewood or Tryon Hills.
Wilson said his company doesn’t have any listings in the corridor but estimates he’s sold about six homes in the area over the past few years, including a 1940s bungalow on Plymouth Avenue he sold this year for about $39,000 that needed substantial work.
“Some see opportunity in this area. Some see fear,” he said. “People who see opportunity are the people who revive homes, neighborhoods and communities. We plan on working in that area for a long time.”
Boykin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.