The Northern Lights – North Charleston, SC
With the electricity of a big city and an entrepreneurial spirit, North Charleston has the confidence that comes with knowing who it is and where it came from.
In the 20 years since the old Navy base shut down, North Charleston took what was a crippling economic blow and launched into a modern day renaissance of sorts. It’s a success story any community can hope for; once hollow buildings are now brewing craft beer, theater seats are filled, hotel rooms are booked up, and the historic district is a textbook case for a charming Southern town.
It’s safe to say that North Charleston has now officially moved out from behind the shadows of its southern counterpart and emerged with its own recipe for success and growth; a unique blend of Lowcountry culture, complete with a lively social scene and a splash of tenacity.
HOW THEY DID IT
Shaking off the dust has been a long and very intentional process with the ultimate goal of enhancing North Charleston for what it is and always has been: industry. First it was the indigo and the rice plantations, ideally situated between the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers. Then along came the railroad that catered to farming and lumbering. There was even phosphate mining for fertilizer, which was profitable long after the Civil War.
Fast forward to the 1900s and North Charleston blossomed with the arrival of the Navy base, spurring residential and business development in spades for a full century. The city grew by a whopping 250% between 1972 and 1982 alone. The loss of the base in 1996, taking the largest civilian employer in the state right along with it, left a void to the tune of a $1.4 billion loss per year. The land reverted back to the city, and it was at this point that North Charleston took control of its own destiny.
Local government and residents tackled their identity crisis by initiating a formal plan dedicated to sustainability, preservation, recreation, and overall quality of life. Private industries began leasing the old warehouses and office spaces, businesses opened, and neighborhoods were building again. In 2009 Boeing announced its arrival, positioning North Charleston as one of the major aircraft centers in the nation.
The original footprint of the city can be found in Park Circle, sometimes referred to as Old Towne North Charleston, which has the distinction of being one of the oldest planned communities in America. The streetscapes are lined with local shops and specialty eateries that are frequented by a mixture of hipsters and nice suits at the street side tables. Options range from the dark and cozy Madra Rua Irish Pub for $2.50 tacos to the biggest outdoor patio in Charleston at Dig In The Park. The neighborhoods here range from well-established bungalows in Traditional Park Circle to brand new construction in an intimate settings complete with cobblestone, courtyards and plazas with a mixture of modern architecture traditional Charleston style at Mixson.
Noisette is the actual site of the old Navy base, evidenced by the scattering of former barracks and housing. Rejuvenation efforts were focused heavily here right from the start, resulting in 3000 acres designed specifically for people to live, work, and play. The master plan for Noisette was honored by American Society of Landscape Architects in 2005 for urban redevelopment and referred to the project as a model for revitalization. Some of the old houses on the property—many of which are listed within the Charleston Navy Yard Officers’ Quarters Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places—are being steadily brought back from disrepair and repurposed, such as the old Admiral’s House that will eventually be used for events. Riverfront Park sprawls alongside the Cooper River and provides a setting of towering oak trees, large-scale sculptures, a fishing pier, boardwalk, and an outdoor amphitheater.
THE ART & BUSINESS DISTRICT
North Charleston conveniently has the only large capacity event venues in the area, attracting the likes of everyone from T-Swift at the Coliseum to the Phantom of the Opera at the Performing Arts Center. With the Tanger Outlets and the Convention Center nearby and the lively crowds at South Carolina Stingrays hockey games, North Charleston has itself a bustling epicenter for entertainment, shopping, and business.
THE CRAFT BREW SCENE
Located off Dorchester Road, the casual and eclectic Holy City Brewing was initially set up in a rickshaw bike shed after the owners pedaled tourists around for cash. An openness to share their now official warehouse space with charity and non-profit events brings droves of visitors to the brewery nearly every weekend, with food trucks happily lining up to accommodate them. With a tasting bar, four flagship brews on tap, and burritos on the menu, Holy City is a guaranteed thirst quencher.
This USDA Certified organic Freehouse Brewery uses a 15-barrel system, a pair of 30-barrel fermenters, and 15-barrel brite tank. In the tasting area, a bar constructed from salvaged wood acquired from a 120-year-old seed mill makes for a rustic, farmhouse-style experience. A custom-built deck just outside the backdoor offers a picturesque view of the marsh and the Ashley River.
Family-owned and environmentally conscious, Coast Brewing Company is tucked neatly amongst the industrial buildings of the old Navy base. The energy-efficient brewhouse is run on waste feedstock biodiesel from a nearby processing plant, and the husband-wife team prioritizes organic and local ingredients above all else.
Envision three bearded dudes drawing a pint of frothy beer to their hairy mugs, and you have an accurate image of Frothy Beard Brewing Company. It all began as a hobby, but the emerging market of the North Charleston area prompted the owners to make things official. This year the bearded brewers have concocted 27 types of beer, which have been poured in over 50 different bars and restaurants. Four flagship brews are available in their tasting area with six on tap and a long list of seasonal choices.
A work in progress and a destination worth the drive all at once, North Charleston’s vibe is palpable; it has the electricity of a big city, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a confidence that comes with knowing who you are and where you came from.