Developer Ed Sutton has big renovations in mind | Photos by Rūta Smith

The next Hipsterville

 The neighborhood around Reynolds Avenue in North Charleston is about to get a major facelift, becoming the next Hipsterville in the greater Charleston area. Much like Avondale, Park Circle or Upper King Street, Reynolds Avenue is getting ready to experience an injection of new life.

“What’s happening here is we’re getting the kind of renewed interest of being a small business district again,” said developer Ed Sutton. “With everything happening like a lot of people moving here and mom and pop locations being priced out of downtown, the nature of downtown is changing, and I really do feel kind of like now’s the time for Reynolds.” 

Reynolds Avenue was a hot spot in the 1960s when the Charleston Naval Shipyard was going full-throttle. Back then, Navy officers, engineers, sailors, tourists and their families strutted up and down Reynolds Avenue, much like today’s downtown King Street area. Tourists at the former Star of America motel visited with curiosity and excitement. 

But after the Navy departed starting in the late 1990s, the hustle and bustle of the lively entertainment district waned and deteriorated. Now come big plans to return in a big way.

What’s coming?

Shuai and Corrie Wang of the Park Circle restaurant Jackrabbit Filly recently announced plans to open King BBQ at 2029 Carver Ave. The Wang’s barbecue joint in the middle of this new Hipsterville is expected to merge the flavors of Chinese and Carolina barbecue and a much larger space than Jackrabbit Filly. 

King BBQ plans for outdoor events in its expansive outdoor patio when completed | Courtesy Simply Commercial

But that’s just one of the many planned projects in the area. Next to King BBQ’s future space is Rexton Street, an area known to flood. Clemson University’s Architectural Program created plans to address the area’s flooding and turn the surrounding areas into a parking lot and park for more community engagement. The plan includes AstroTurf, plenty of trees for shade, an amphitheater for outdoor activities and a playground for kids to run around and explore. 

On the other side of King BBQ at the corner of Reynolds Avenue and Rivers Avenue is the remnants of L and W Thrift Store. Before that, the corner spot was the Goldmine Pawn & Bargain Store, a former landmark in the area. The building is slated for renovation with plans that are multi-use including offices on the second floor, and a restaurant and bar on the ground. This corner building is expected to be the eye-catcher of the new Reynolds Avenue, with a theater-like lighted marquee stretching around the corner onto Carver Avenue to catch the eyes of night owls looking for a place to grab a drink. 

“It kind of sends a signal to people like: ‘Hey, you’re entering a new area of town,’ ” Sutton said. 

Local businesses 

Ms. Jackie serves up a frozen treat at Mr. Narwhal’s Magnificent Snoballs, a Reynolds Avenue business that serves the surrounding community

For some business owners already in the area, such as Mr. Narwhal’s Magnificent Snoballs, much of the development has been seemingly kept under wraps. During an information session held by Charleston and North Charleston about the plans, much of the information, according to Mr. Narwhal’s business owner, who asked to be referred to as “Dunny,” seemed like it was “a closely held secret … or they just have not finalized any plans.”

“One of the questions that most of the business owners over there had was, ‘When is this supposed to happen?’ ” Dunny added. “And nobody had an answer.”

Despite the little information Dunny has heard about the area, he’s still plenty excited for the things he knows will come, such as the Lowcountry Transit Rail, a bus rapid transit system that’s planned to stretch from Ladson to the Charleston peninsula. Having a stop on Reynolds Avenue is “just awesome,” Dunny said, “because just think of the amount of people who now have access both ways … and it will be another main attraction to help bring people in.”

Rebel Taqueria owner Lewis Kesaris is excited for Reynolds Avenue to shine

Rebel Taqueria owner Lewis Kesaris said he is excited to see the changes happening to his Reynolds Avenue neighbors.

“It wasn’t the nicest neighborhood when we first moved in here,” Kesaris said. “But people are more confident in coming to the area. It’s a good spot for people that live in Charleston that want a low key and nice little place to hang out.”

Kesaris said he believes the redevelopment will provide economic success to the community, much in the same way Upper King Street has thrived with new local businesses. 

“I kind of feel like we’re doing a little bit of what Rec Room did,” Kesaris said, “and how Rec Room was way up there and people thought they were crazy. Now they’ve got awesome restaurants all around them and they kind of paved the path for Upper King Street.”

Affordable housing planned

Much in the same way of redevelopment of Upper King Street, Avondale or Park Circle, community members are worried about gentrification, according to the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia. The organization is an outreach group that maintains and preserves the community by making sure the neighborhood maintains a reflection of its current population. The organization does this by building leaders, establishing quality housing and generating economic development. 

Metanoia currently owns three buildings along Reynolds Avenue, which includes Mr. Narwhal’s. By owning the buildings, said Stanfield, the organization can work with Black business owners and entrepreneurs so that it “can stay ahead of the curve.”

This redevelopment of Reynolds Avenue isn’t what drew Dunny to opening a Mr. Narwhal’s in the area, though. He said it was his dedication to the children of the community. 

“You don’t have enough business owners willing to come in on the ground level and wait it out,” he said. “I came in specifically for that reason not because I knew everything that was happening there. I was more concerned about the community and the kids in the area, because if they don’t have anywhere to go or like a safe haven, they can come in and get some snowballs and hang out for a little bit, get some quiet time.”

The next step after adding more local businesses in the area is more affordable housing, Sutton said: “We don’t need any more luxury apartments. Build something that workers can actually afford.” He hopes that workforce housing, retail businesses, restaurants and bars in the area would mitigate the traffic issue in the area, as the places people will need to go are within walking distance. 

More businesses, affordable housing and easier transportation may all be important factors in redeveloping and revitalizing Reynolds Avenue, but what matters most is the voice of the community, Stanfield said.

“Redevelopment of a street like that doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition,” Stanfield said. “In other words, there are some uses that are really detrimental to the community, there are some uses that are very beneficial to the community and a lot of the uses that are sort of somewhere in between. Will something that’s coming in create opportunities for the current residents, or will it just sort of be there for somebody else?”

A Star returns

What the Starlight Motor Inn will look like after renovations

The former Star of America Motel at 3245 Rivers Ave. is returning in a big way, according to Walker Lamond, creative director of the Starlight Motor Inn. Lamond, along with his longtime partner Ham Morrison, are in the final stages of launching the Starlight Motor Inn in the former Star of America space. Morrison has renovated several properties in the Charleston area, including the Redux Contemporary Art Center.

The Star of America Motel was a thriving business in the 1960s and early 1970s, but fell into disrepair over the decades. In 2020, the motel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the state for being the first prefabricated and prefurnished motel in Charleston County and possibly the country. 

“It was lively,” Lamond said. “Reynolds Avenue really was kind of North Charleston’s Main Street back when the Navy base was open. Maybe a little rough and tumble, but certainly a lot of open storefronts, restaurants and bars. It was a whole community and the community is still there. It just needs places to go to be together.”

The renovated Starlight Motor Inn will have 51 rooms, a restaurant, cocktail lounge and, coming in 2023, a pool and poolside bar. Eventually, Lamond added, he and Morrison want to renovate five cottages in the property adjacent to the inn and dub it “Starlight Village.” Each cottage will be available to rent like a motel room to “add a few more options,” Lamond said. 

“What we’re hoping is that the building just kind of becomes what it always was, which is like a nice little landmark for the neighborhood, and a nice sign for what we think is gonna be a vibrant corner of North Charleston, kind of like it was back in the ‘60s,” he added. 

The motel is expected to open in November.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.