It's always been a challenge explaining to visitors where the City Paper offices are located. It usually goes something like this: "We're on Morrison Drive, which is just the northern end of East Bay Street. We're right across from Martha Lou's, you know that little pink building with the fish on it? But if you get to the strip clubs you've gone too far. You know what? Just Mapquest it."
Without a well-known or accepted name, defining our neighborhood has never been easy, but as more businesses start to call the area home, it's become more of an issue. With that in mind, a group of area business owners and developers have joined forces to help create a stronger identity for the area.
The effort has been facilitated in part by Kate and Lindsay Nevin, a couple that is attempting to convert the building at 1600 Meeting Street into an arts center complete with studios, a theater, and an eatery. Although the building is still under contract, their efforts have led them to a greater involvement in the surrounding area, which they loosely called the Creative Corridor because of the many creative businesses settling between Huger Street and Pittsburgh Avenue.
"I just want it to be clear that we aren't proposing to change the name of anything," Kate Nevin says. "All neighborhood names, like East Central and North Central, will always be named that. What we are trying to do is better develop a true art and design district so we can work on positive community development initiatives like greenways, bike lanes, maps, art walks, neighborhood programming, LDC loans, etc. To do that we need a defined area, name, and purpose and mission. People calling it NoMo, Neck, Creative Corridor is getting confusing."
Christopher Morgan, the director of the city's Planning and Neighborhoods Division, says that the area in question is actually comprised of many different districts — including East Central, Bridgeview, Silverhill/Magnolia, Four-Mile Hibernian, and Rosemont. Though some have simply referred to the area the Neck, he says historically that name refers to the area between Mt. Pleasant Street and North Charleston.
A brainstorming e-mail chain led by Kate Nevin includes a number of business owners like Susan Gregory of Cone 10, Karalee Nielsen of REV Foods, William Cogswell of Wecco, Mary Gatch of Dwellsmart, and City Paper employees. The proposed names so far include a few inspired by the area's geography, like Big Bridge North, North Bridge, Upper Pen, Narrows, NoMo, Shipyard Creek, and Crossroads. Others are based on local industry, like the Creative Corridor, ReDesign District, and New Industry. Historically inspired suggestions include Cool Blow, the Shipyard, Industry Row, and New Market.
Cone 10's Susan Gregory says, "I lean toward the ones that speak to the historical component of the neighborhood. That's how the rest of the city seems to be called and I think it's good to have us in context. Cool Blow District came from the name of the land dating back to the 19th century. It's also not as serious sounding as say, Wraggsborough. I also like those that are almost instructional in direction, like North Bridge, as that's how we used to tell folks how to get to us. I don't like ones that are too general and less related to our surroundings or ones that are already kind of catchy. I think we are aware of a need for some naturalism here with the public and we need to leave room for that."
Some locals — including many City Paper employees — have started calling the area NoMo, a nod to other cities' names for similarly artistic and industrial areas (New York's SoHo, San Francisco's SoMa, Charlotte's NoDa). It even made the cover of The Post and Courier. But others haven't been so quick to embrace that name. "It's been great that the area has gotten some recognition, and with that NoMo seems to be catching on," Gregory says. "When we first moved here it made more sense because the nexus of activity seemed to be us, Martha Lou's, Santi's, Bird Hardware, Rug Masters, and City Paper — all on Morrison. But in connecting the dots between creative entities existing and on the way, the physical area is much larger. Also, we believed the city's creative corridor should have a name with character, specific to Charleston, rather than playing off the names of other towns."
Dwellsmart's Mary Gatch says, "My worry is that the African Americans may sort of feel that we're slanging or something."
Kate Nevin says the current plan is to come up with a solid short list of three or four names and then have a community meeting for all stakeholders in the area, including businesses, churches, and residents, to discuss and vote. The next meeting is scheduled for Thurs. March 1 at 5:30 p.m. at Studio PS. It will be open to the public.
"The name is obviously just the beginning, but it gives everyone something to get behind and promote, whether its for them personally or the district," Lindsay Nevin says. "Either way, when someone is referencing the area, we're all speaking the same language for the benefit of everyone involved."