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GASTONIA, NC-Many of the 300 Downtown buildings are so dilapidated, local officials and concerned citizens in this city, 20 miles west of Downtown Charlotte, want remedies that can revitalize the 20 blocks of the central business district.

Barbara Lawrence, Gastonia’s Downtown development administrator since 1996, has a lot on her plate as she negotiates with building owners, business executives, local government officials and nonprofit group leaders. One project that has been denied funding is a $500,000 pedestrian walkway across Gastonia’s center city railroad track. The walkway would connect Downtown with the Gaston County government complex along Marietta Street. But critics have called the project unnecessary.

Lawrence is convinced the rejuvenation cannot be done one building at a time. She recently persuaded John Elkington, president of Memphis-based Performa Entertainment Real Estate Inc., to agree to study one block of Downtown Gastonia. Real estate sources familiar with Elkington’s ventures say it’s rare for him to participate in such a small project. He is known for spearheading certain redevelopment miracles in Memphis, specifically redeveloping Memphis’ blighted Beale Street into a tourist destination.

Elkington is currently reviewing a $30,000 study of the 5.5 acre so-called “superblock” in Gastonia. This parcel contains 280,000 sf in buildings constructed from the 1920s to the 1960s. The most immediate need is for 120 residential units over the next two years, the study finds.

Lawrence contends people must live Downtown to create the necessary foot traffic present in a vibrant city. She believes Elkington’s most important finding so far is that Downtown Gastonia has too much space available to restrict it to one use.

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