Cover Story: Saving Independence Boulevard

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - State leaders say pardon our progress.

The plan to widen another stretch of Independence Boulevard rolls on and business owners are trying to survive.

North Carolina DOT is turning Independence Boulevard into an expressway between Sharon Amity Road and Conference Drive.

Great for drivers, but the potential death knell for businesses along that stretch of road.

We all saw what happened to Independence between Uptown and Albemarle Road.

Property owners will be compensated by the state for their property but if it's a business that leases the property they won't get anything.

It's creating some nervousness and frustration.

Signs on Independence are already up:  Moving sale.  Going out of business.

The widening of Independence Boulevard - US 74 from Center City - Interstate 277 to Sharon Amity Road is already completed.

Next stretch of turning into an expressway - to Conference Drive - starts next year.  But work's begun now to get businesses out of the way.

"We've worked hard for our location.. but it is up.. but now have to start over," says Mital Naik who owns the twin restaurants Brazas and Namaste at the corner of Independence and Sharon Amity.  He is having to move.

The property where is restaurant is will be part of the intersection and overpass the state is building.

Since Naik leases his location he won't be getting anything from the state.  The property owner will be compensated.

"We're looking at different options but haven't really found somewhere we can move in without having to go through additional cost," said Naik.

He was one of dozens of business owners who turned out at a public meeting Tuesday afternoon hosted by the city of Charlotte, the Charlotte Chamber's East Chapter and The Park Expo to let them know what help might be available and where they might want to relocate.

"Yes they're very nervous because you got to look at the livelihood. If you look at many of the businesses that's long this corridor they're small businesses," said Alonzo Woods of the Charlotte Chamber-East Chapter.

What's happened along Independence.. the boarded up stores and shops.. that either happened during the construction or after it became a freeway taught the city it must take a pro-active approach in making sure the corridor doesn't deteriorate further.

Christopher Hemans is with the City's Neighborhood and Business Services.  He says, "We want to make sure that they're still able to support some of these businesses. If we can find other spaces for them within this area then we're really doing our job. That's what our hope is."

Liberty East Restaurant is one of the lucky ones.  They get to stay.  They're only losing a couple feet of frontage property.

Owner Elton Braho says the kicker will be whether he'll lose business down the road.

"We're not planning on moving or relocating anytime soon unless the business would be hurt to the point that we won't be able to stay," he said.

More than 100 businesses lie along Independence Boulevard between Sharon Amity and Idlewild Road.  That's in the first phase of the project.  Property is being bought up right now.

The entire widening runs 1.6 miles and will take the Independence Expressway out to Conference Drive.

The price tag for the project is $172 million.  Construction starts next year.

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