Park Circle is getting some media love once again, this time with a mention on This Old House's list of Best Old House Neighborhoods for 2012. The North Charleston community is one of 16 regional winners for the South, alongside others like Central Gardens in Memphis, Tenn., and the Old Southwest in Roanoke, Va.
The write-up praises Park Circle's "modest and affordable" houses, making home renovators drool with mentions of $50,000 fixer-uppers and $100,000 Craftsman-style bungalows. The original developers in 1912 placed an emphasis on green spaces, peppering the neighborhood and its namesake roundabout with public parks. Most of the houses standing today were built in the 1940s and '50s, when many of the residents worked at the nearby Charleston Navy Yard.
"With its affordable houses and plenty of restaurants and shops on Montague Avenue, its main commercial thoroughfare, Park Circle is popular among first-time homebuyers," the story says, adding that the nearby Charleston County School of the Arts helps attract families with children.
Popular businesses and restaurants like EVO, COAST Brewing, and the Celadon Home Furnishings discount warehouse have moved to Park Circle and the Navy Yard since the Navy left North Charleston in 1996, but development efforts have been stymied by an S.C. Public Railways plan to build new rail lines through the northern end of the Navy Yard and Park Circle, violating a 2002 memorandum of understanding that guaranteed new rail lines would pass through the southern end. Mayor Keith Summey sued the state in August 2011 to block the new rail lines, which would choke traffic around the neighborhood. Summey lives in Park Circle and helped spur development by securing city funds to renovate the Old Village commercial district on East Montague Avenue.
Melissa Bissett, co-owner of the AgentOwned Realty office in Park Circle, says that young professionals are just beginning to express an interest in the neighborhood. Four and a half years ago, when Bissett and her husband Gary opened the office, other realtors told them it was a doomed venture. Now, when she meets skeptics, she can point to higher property values and a string of best-in-the-nation list appearances in the neighborhood's defense: "America's Most Fun, Affordable Cities" in Bloomberg Business Week (2011), "Home of the Year" in Green Builder magazine for the Oak Terrace Preserve subdivision (2009), and, of course, "Coolest Neighborhoods" in Men's Journal (2009).
But Bissett says the state needs to resolve the rail issue if Park Circle is going to flourish.
"It just cannot come through our neighborhood," Bissett says. "It will ruin the momentum Park Circle is having ... Oak Terrace Preserve, Mixson, Hunley Waters — these are places that young professionals are wanting to move to and not worry about railroads."
In a press release about the recognition, Mayor Summey kept his message apolitical:
"We hoped for a renaissance, and we got just that. Today, Park Circle is a diverse, progressive, vibrant neighborhood full of young families and professionals that are active in the community, take pride in their homes, and patronize our local, small businesses."