The Myths of AvondaleIs the hype behind West Ashley’s hottest spot reality or fantasy?
April 5, 2018
By Bill Davis | News Editor
For years, City Hall has touted the Avondale area of shops and restaurants as the “model” for future development in West Ashley. But should they, considering it’s not even a perfect fit for its own area?
Give Avondale its due. What had been dead strips of shops on either side of Savannah Highway has evolved into one of the hottest areas in the Charleston area. Local restaurants, bars, salons, and a few shops all beckon to locals.
Close enough to the Ashley River, it pulls from peninsular residents, too. At night, it is a hub of excitement and vibrancy. Even its back alleys are literally an outdoor art gallery.
And yet …
Parking remains a big problem, with neighboring lots and spots filled to the point that cars often circle, looking for a berth. The complimentary valet service on the corner of Tall Oak Avenue and Magnolia Road can only do so much, and it isn’t even out there every night.
While the new walkways and median improvements are great, many agree that it is just a matter of time before the next nighttime reveler gets whacked by a passing car. And the mix of businesses is definitely bar and nighttime heavy, with few retail spots.
That means there are fewer daytime uses, other than the bevy of office spaces. There is even a massive retail dead spot that has sat empty for years where the Junk and Jive novelty shop used to live.
And that’s not even mentioning the building that was bulldozed last year to make way for … a parking lot … for a bank.
So, is this what City Hall says will be the model for DuWapp, for Long Savannah, for Church Creek, and so on?
Jacob Lindsey, City Director of Planning, Preservation & Sustainability, modifies the fervor.
“When we talk about its success that we want to replicate in other places in West Ashley, we are talking about the human scale of the place, its walkability, and the quality of its street experience,” says Lindsey. But, he stresses, that doesn’t always extend to the mix of tenants.
Errica Watkins’ stylish ladies garment store Bashful Boutique called Avondale home from 2008 until 2016, when she moved to a bigger space in South Windermere. She says two major reasons drove her out: parking and the atmosphere.
“Parking was the biggest problem, but we really did like it there, but it was more of a nightlife place and less of a retail place,” says Watkins, who used to love to walk with her husband from their nearby home at night for a bite and drink.
But when one of the banks started charging $7 for a parking spot, Watkins’ hubby drew the line. “It’s not like it’s downtown or the beach, where we’re used to paying something; but to have to suck it up and pay $7 for parking in Avondale and only for two hours,” says Watkins.
Also, Watkins says some shoppers don’t want to pull out their wallets at a strip covered in art, or graffiti — depending on the beholder’s eyes.
Ed Kronsberg, who manages several buildings in the Avondale area has been “pounding the parking drum” for years.
“The one thing missing in Avondale is filling the need for city-supported parking,” says Kronsberg. “There is plenty of multi-level parking on the peninsula, and zero in West Ashley.”
Kronsberg wonders why business downtown is more valued by City Hall than businesses here.
“It’s just time to address Avondale, where everyone knows there is a parking issue. We need to have the city meet us halfway, sit down with community leaders and business leaders, and figure out how to partner, how to put our brains together and come together on a plan or a solution that everybody can be happy with,” he says.
City planning director Lindsey agrees, and says a thorough, proactive study of the area is needed, one that accounts for every aspect of the situation, from neighboring housing to pedestrian safety.
But before the city could commit to building or facilitating a parking deck in Avondale, Lindsey says it needs to fully understand the needed infrastructure.
Michael Rabin, who owns and co-owns several of the buildings on the east side of Savannah Highway, is very much for a parking deck, but worries how neighborhoods bordering the commercial district will react to such a structure.
Would they hail the change as a panacea for parking and congestion, or would they bristle at more cars and more noise and the like?
Rabin has reason to worry. A recent plan to build an apartment complex for the elderly behind the nearby Harris Teeter has met with considerable pushback, even though the plan is well below the maximum density zoned for the property.
Rabin confirms that his large space in that strip that lay dormant for so many years, will soon have a new tenant. He says a workout studio has signed a lease, which will be more of a daytime use than its neighbors.
But that change has rankled a longtime Avondale champion, Geoff Richardson, who owns Lava Salon with his wife at the other end of the block.
Richardson authored the back-alley art displays as well as several events, one associated with Piccolo Spoleto. His worry is that a successful exercise studio could bring as many as “30 more cars here, morning, noon, and night,” which would overwhelm the available parking spaces.
“What was I supposed to do, keep the property empty forever?” asks Rabin. “If the tables were turned, would it be different?”
Community Yoga, a few doors down from Richardson’s spot, already draws students from nearby ‘hoods, as evidenced by them walking through residential streets with their rolled-up mats tucked into soft bags.
So, when development kicks off again in the Church Creek Basin area, will residents there be ready to accept speeding traffic, parking woes, drinkers stumbling home late at night once flooding is finally fixed?
Apparently, Avondale is a heckuva model, but it’s probably not one size fits all.