One Triad city manager likes to trace the current boom in development in his city to the arrival of Chick-fil-A — not barbecue.
Since the popular, "premium" fast-food chain opened a location in Lexington last October, City Manager Alan Carson has seen growth throughout the Davidson County city, best known as North Carolina’s barbecue capital.
"I look at it as kind of a stamp of approval for our community," Carson told Triad Business Journal. "I don’t know if our boom is because of Chick-fil-A — but I bet it’s part of it. I don’t think it’s all coincidental. Two weeks after Chick-fil-A opened, I got a call that the Hampton Inn was coming."
Last week, Carson announced that MRI Hotels of Charlotte would build an 80-room Hampton Inn by Hilton off Fairview Drive, near a new Lidl grocery store just off I-85. Planet Fitness and Coach’s Neighborhood Grill sports bar have joined Chick-fil-A on nearby Parkway Plaza. Carson said two outparcels on Parkway Plaza were recently purchased, though no announcements were made for their development.
In the city’s Uptown Depot District, 16 events were held last year at the new amphitheater, including concerts by Gin Blossoms and Edwin McCain. Next door to the amphitheater, Carson said a local developer has made a commitment to put at least one restaurant with retail in a 45,000-square-foot former maintenance and furniture building.
Goose & Monkey Brew House is scheduled to begin operations in September at 401 Railroad St., only a few blocks from Bull City Ciderworks. Also Uptown, Carson said he’s drawn interest from at least developer about a former furniture showroom larger than the former maintenance and furniture building. Thirty units at Parkview Apartments are under development in two Uptown buildings dating back to 1928.
A handful of vineyards, including Childress Vineyards, the wine estate of former NASCAR driver and current team owner Richard Childress, and Boone’s Cave Park provide other tourist attractions.
Now, Carson, who said the city spent 3 1/2 years courting Chick-fil-A, said one of his most important tasks is to attract new hotels. He said he first approached MRI several years ago about a boutique hotel Uptown, but MRI came back interested in a site near the interstate, though an opening date has not been announced. TBJ contacted MRI, but was told principal Sid Maheshwari was out of town and unavailable for comment.
The city of about 19,000 people has a short list of hotels, including a Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn, Best Western and a Red Roof Inn.
"We’re trying to develop enough quality of life to get another hotel," said Carson, who is working on that with ElectriCities of North Carolina. The city manager said an important guest last week stayed at the home of Mayor Newell Clark because no hotel rooms were available.
"We didn’t have any special events that I knew of," Carson said. "Tourism is hopping."
Lexington already had some attractions. Each summer, 20,000-30,000 people come into the city to relax on High Rock Lake. In the fall, the Lexington Barbecue Festival, which will celebrate 35 years in October, attracts as many as 160,000 attendees.
And more jobs are coming, too. Egger Group said it would hire 770 people over the next 15 years for a $700 million facility on 220 acres in Lexington.