If there’s one thing I’ve learned in about a year-and-a-half of doing C5 it’s that some people in Charlotte have really strong feelings about neighborhoods, neighborhood names and identities.

There are the people who love LoSo and the people who think we’re turning into SoDoSoPa City. There are the people trying to build an identity in up-and-coming areas like MoRA and the people who — correctly — always tell me I’m wrong when I say Birdsong Brewing is in NoDa. (It’s in Belmont.)

So I’ll be curious to see how people react to Mill District, which I learned about at the tail end of my tour of the old mill that will become Tompkins Hall in Optimist Park, which was led by executives from White Point Paces Partners.

What’s Mill District?

Basically, it’s a name the developers created for the commercial area that stretches down North Davidson Street and Parkwood Ave., along the light rail extension from I-277 to a little north of 36th Street. Check out the map below (click to enlarge):


The name is a nod to the area’s mill history, and the fact that several of those mills have been — or will soon be — transformed into apartments, restaurants, retail and more. In addition to Highland Park Mill No. 1, which will become Tompkins Hall, there’s: Highland Park Mill No. 3 (now Heist Brewing and Highland Mill Lofts); Alpha Cotton Mill (now Alpha Mill Apartments); Chadbourn Hosiery Mills (expected to be redeveloped into office and retail); The Johnston Mill (expected to be developed into apartments); The Mecklenburg Cotton Mill (now The Lofts at NoDa Mills); and Louise Cotton Mill (being redeveloped into apartments over on Hawthorne Lane).

Doesn’t this area already have a name?

Kinda, and here’s where I think things get interesting. The area is a patchwork of neighborhoods, from Optimist Park and Belmont closest to uptown, then up to Villa Heights (where Amelie’s is) and into NoDa. And recently those neighborhoods around NoDa — especially Villa Heights — have been pushing to assert their identity as separate from NoDa.

But Erik Johnson, a partner with White Point Partners, said they’re not trying to take anything away from the already-established neighborhoods with the name, but instead give an identity to the whole district that will likely continue to grow when the light rail opens. Basically, he thinks the business corridor could be known as Mill District, but each residential neighborhood would keep its own identity.

I see his point: It’s easier to say “We’re going to Mill District,” than it is to say “We’re going to Optimist Park, then maybe over to Villa Heights and will probably end up in NoDa.” And the name itself isn’t bad. But will it catch on, and will the already-established neighborhoods embrace it?

“We’re really trying to give this area a common name,” he said. “We anticipate when the light rail opens, you’re going to see what happened in South End. You’re going to see the area really change and evolve and one thing we want to do, which I think is not done in Charlotte a lot, is give homage to the history.”

What does this have to do with South End?

South End is a really good example for this idea, actually. The area didn’t get the South End name until 1994 with the incorporation of the South End Development Corporation, according to the Historic South End website. Before that, it was basically an industrial corridor between Dilworth and Wilmore (which is probably why the edges of these neighborhoods are a little fuzzy). So yeah, “Historic” South End has only been called that for about 22 years.

(There’s also a good story about the history of South End on WFAE.com.)

The light rail opening in 2007 was a huge part of the growth of South End, and Johnson thinks a similar thing could happen on this side of town. Thus the new name.

“Look, the defining characteristic (of the area) is all these mills. Let’s kind of be the counterpoint to South End,” Johnson said. “South End’s this big area, it’s really the commercial district, and that’s what we’re trying to capture here.”

What do you think about Mill District? Vote in the poll below and share more thoughts in the comments.

What do you think of the idea to name the commercial area from Optimist Park to NoDa “Mill District”?


Photos: Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer; Corey Inscoe. Original story posted on Charlotte Five by  Corey Inscoe.