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  • Rob Glover

Mount Holly is Creating Something Unique to the Region, and Residents can Help Make it Happen

The City and people of Mount Holly have amassed a pretty impressive track record as of late.

Downtown’s once-vacant historic buildings are now bustling with shops, restaurants, a craft beer and wine bar, a new brewery, and a beautiful art gallery. Segments of greenway—part of the Carolina Thread Trail—provide immersive connections to nature and have encouraged new private investment. And a park expansion and riverfront restaurant development exposed residents and visitors to the town’s 10 miles of Catawba River shoreline (the most in the region).

Evey McFadden, Gaston Outside

The success is neither accidental nor overnight. It’s part of a nearly 20-year-old plan the town embarked on in 2003. If you’re following along as Mount Holly works its plan, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Three upcoming projects—two pedestrian bridges and an expanded downtown park—will give Gaston’s second largest municipality amenities unique to the region. They’ll support local businesses and protect its historic downtown. They’ve already helped influence a major Charlotte brewery to make Mount Holly its next home.

Creating a roadmap for Mount Holly

Back in 2016, when Emily Andress searched for a location to house her art gallery and studios, she had never heard of Mount Holly. Then, a listing popped up on her screen for a suitable two-story brick building on Central Avenue. It only took one meeting to know she was in the right place.

“The vision plan for Mount Holly that [City Planner] Greg Beal showed me when I was looking to purchase my building in downtown Mount Holly was the reason I pulled the trigger,” Andress explains. “I literally put in my offer from my car after leaving the meeting.”

Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

The document Andress saw is officially called the Strategic Vision Plan Update. It’s the most recent iteration of a roadmap for Mount Holly’s future. In it are the town's core values, proposed projects, and overall concept for what Mount Holly should be—all driven by input from residents, business owners, and non-profit leaders.

The results of that plan are hard to miss. A streetscape update widened sidewalks, planted trees, hid power lines, and added decorative lighting to compliment existing historic buildings. A focus on wellbeing brought the town several greenway segments. Dozens of other initiatives—too many to list here—added to the prosperity and quality of life for Mount Holly residents and business owners.

“I remember being excited when I saw the three-to-five year plan Mount Holly had,” says Jonathon Todd, owner of The Summit Beer Shop, a popular craft beer and wine bar located around the corner from Andress’s Awaken Gallery. “What I expected to see is happening now.”

Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

The initiatives did their job, spurring private investment and a revitalization of downtown. “When I first moved to Mount Holly 15 years ago, there was lots of vacant commercial space downtown,” says Jeff Meadows, a longtime Mount Holly City Council member. “Now it’s in such high demand that as soon as space comes open it’s leased.”

Connecting community with prosperity

Sparked by previous public investments, Todd, Andress, and other small business owners have built a community center for Mount Holly. They’ve organized seminal events like the Lantern Parade and the Pinnacle Craft Beer Festival. They’ve created spaces for residents to meet in real life. And they’ve built a vital economic center that brings jobs and resources to Mount Holly that aren’t available when people go elsewhere to shop, eat, and play.

The next phase of the city’s plan will help those businesses thrive and give residents a host of new recreational, occupational, and cultural opportunities.

Directing downtown development

The largest project on the list is an expansion of Veterans Park in the center of Mount Holly’s downtown. It would add an amphitheater, splash pad, small events lawn, public restrooms, and additional parking to the heart of downtown.

Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

The park represents a significant boon for local business owners.

“You want to create a vibrant downtown area while still keeping it full of unique small businesses,” Andress says. “What better way to do that than to have spaces where people can be outdoors with their families just steps away from restaurants, businesses, and art?”

While the additional foot traffic supports local businesses, the park is also a way to guide growth in a healthy direction. “Something will be developed in that space,” says Todd. “The park is a way to make sure it’s something that benefits the community.”

Todd, who also chairs the Business Owners on Main Association, notes that the park will provide a location for Mount Holly’s events. Food Truck Fridays, live music, and holiday events can bring hundreds of people to town, but most aren’t there to shop or sit inside a restaurant, he says. Instead, closing Main Street can have a detrimental effect on downtown businesses. “We lose half a day’s revenue at every event.” The park would bring more people downtown more often while leaving Main Street open to everyone. “The park has enough room to book bigger name bands and I can see other groups, like Yoga meetups, using the park and then visiting businesses. Every small business owner I know is really excited for the park’s potential.”

Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

Thriving businesses mean more local services and experiences for residents. But there are other direct financial benefits as well, says Meadows. “As a percentage of revenue, Mount Holly relies more heavily on residential taxes than other municipalities like Belmont. Healthy businesses in town increase commercial tax revenue and allow us to shift that burden from residents while still giving us the resources to meet community needs.”

Of course, there’s also the matter of job creation. Small businesses hire locally and their services help convince larger businesses to move into the area. A thriving town with restaurants, entertainment, and shopping is an attractive carrot for big companies that need to recruit talent. As the park helps local businesses to thrive, Mount Holly’s next generation can find employment here and raise their families in the town they grew up in.

“We have always enjoyed outdoor entertainment whether listening to the Charlotte Symphony at SouthPark or a production of the Lost Colony Play in the Outer Banks,” Andress says.The idea of having an outdoor space to sit in the grass and listen to music or even having plays performed there has been a dream scenario for me.”

Connecting community to nature

The other projects on the list are two pedestrian bridges. They'll connect segments of greenway together and make them accessible to several neighborhoods.

One bridge will cross Dutchmans Creek, connecting River Street Park to the Woodland Park neighborhood, creating seven miles of continuous trail.

The other bridge traverses Fites Creek, connecting Tuckaseege Park with the Riverfront Subdivision, adding a potential four more miles of greenway.

Randy Rivera, Gaston Outside

All told, the greenways will eventually create over 10 miles of path stretching from I-85 in the south to Mountain Island Park in the north. Along the way, that trail will connect several neighborhoods with parks, restaurants, river access, and soon, the new Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.

It’s easy to see greenways as a pretty amenity that’s nice to have when resources allow. The reality is, greenways are a catalyst for the type of economic growth that benefits everyone.

For starters, greenways tend to attract businesses that want to become a part of the community.

“OMB’s reason for being is to ‘enhance the quality of life in our community.’” says John Marrino, owner of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. “We see it as our mission to partner with folks like those in Mount Holly to play a small part in helping them enhance their own backyard."

Future Home of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery — Grant Baldwin, Gaston Outside

Marrino chose Mount Holly for a new OMB site, a sprawling brewery and restaurant that will be nestled between the banks of the Catawba River and Mount Holly’s growing greenway. “We like to think of the OMB experience as somewhat equivalent to a public park (albeit with beer and food). As such, we think the combination of our venue and the city’s upgrades to the natural park/greenway experience in Mt. Holly will be quality of life game-changers," Marrino added, “When I met with [City Manager Miles Braswell and City Planner Greg Beal] and they presented to me what projects the City had already completed, as well as all the forward thinking plans they had in the hopper, it convinced me that Mount Holly was the right choice for OMB.”

Investments in shared-use paths (a more official name for greenways) provide a significant return in many ways. An NC State study on shared-use paths found that every $1.00 spent creating a greenway returns $1.72 in economic benefit to the community every year. That’s revenue to local businesses, tax income that takes more burden off of residents, and health and transportation savings for everyone.

“A greenway that long draws visitors,” says Meadows. “Just look at Greenville and the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It sells hotel rooms and brings people to retail stores.”

For residents, the benefits hit a little closer to home. The same NC State study found examples of homes near a trail being valued as much as 20% higher than similar properties farther away. They also noted that homes close to greenways continue to increase in value faster and are easier to sell than others.

It’s not all about financial gain, though. Greenways are an antidote to siloed neighborhoods. Multi-use paths connect cul-de-sac communities, offering an alternative mode of transportation that doesn’t increase car traffic. They’re also healthier for people and the environment, providing a place to exercise while protecting valuable greenspaces.

“The greenways open up the waterfront to walking, fishing, and boating,” says Meadows. “These activities are accessible to people of all income brackets. They’re for the whole community.”

Giving people the power to choose

All three projects were the result of a rigorous public evaluation that included input across Mount Holly various communities.

“Every property owner, business, and non-profit had a say,” says Meadows. “We ranked projects based on feedback from public meetings and an online survey posted on Mount Holly Town Talk, Facebook, and our website. Then we had standard hearings at town council, took the list back to the public, and reranked them based on their input.”

With the top three projects in hand, it was time to decide how to fund them. A bond is often the best way for a municipality to finance projects because the cost to pay a bond back is usually much lower than the interest on a conventional loan.

Mount Hollywood Vintage — Anna Naphtali, Gaston Outside

In Mount Holly, city leaders decided to give residents the choice of how to pay for these projects. Back in 2019, when a new property valuation came out, Mount Holly lowered it’s tax rate to remain revenue neutral. “We could have kept the same rate then and used the increase in revenue to pay for these projects,” says Mayor Bryan Hough. "We wanted residents to have a say."

Instead, City Council has offered residents the chance to vote on a referendum to use bonds. “People told us these were the things they wanted us to focus on,” Meadow says. “But when it came time to fund them, we wanted to make sure they were still a priority.”

The bond vote is part of the November general election. Mount Holly residents have several options of how and when to vote, including on general election day, November 2 or at an early voting location starting on October 14th. You can learn more about the bond and the projects they’ll fund in this comprehensive report.

Whether you’re a longtime resident or just passing through, take a look around at the community Mount Holly is building. “There is nothing better than walking into Catawba Coffee and having them smile at me and say ‘the usual?’’ says Andress. “That is the ideal that people look for and we have it here.”

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