Hickory's on the rise
Since the passing of a $40 million bond referendum in 2014, the City of Hickory has embarked on a journey of transformation. In recent years, the bond money has been leveraged to gain an additional $58 million in grants for complementary projects. This has allowed the city to invest more than $98 million into trailblazing projects that create a high quality of life, spur economic growth and attract residents and businesses.
The result of the city’s investment will be a 10-mile multimodal urban trail system connecting destinations across the city, placemaking through streetscapes and gateways and a 378-acre Class A advanced business park to lure industry and create jobs.
A walk or drive through Hickory today reveals a revitalized city, abundant with opportunities for a well-crafted life, as the city’s motto states.
The Hickory Trail is an economic catalyst that showcases the diverse landscapes of the community and connects destinations across the city. From the Trail, Hickory residents and visitors will have access to some of Hickory’s assets – Lake Hickory, the renovated downtown, educational centers, sporting and entertainment venues and the regional airport. An interactive map and additional information about the Hickory Trail are available online at www.hkytrail.com.
The Hickory community celebrated the grand opening of the City Walk on Dec. 16, 2021, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and sunset dedication of the N.C. 127 pedestrian bridge as the Rudy Wright Bridge in honor of late Hickory Mayor Glenn Rudolph “Rudy” Wright, Jr. The City Walk has proven to be a popular attraction for runners, joggers, walkers and bicyclists looking for exercise or convenient access to Lenoir-Rhyne University and downtown destinations.
The Riverwalk portion of the Trail showcases the Catawba River and connects to the paved Geitner Trail and Lake Hickory Trails between Rotary-Geitner and Hickory City parks. The on-land portion of the Riverwalk is complete and people are now enjoying the views of Lake Hickory from the elevated overland trail. Contractors continue to work on the second phase of the project, which includes the overwater bridge, an entrance from Old Lenoir Road, parking and access to the trail system, landscaping, electrical work and fencing. The entire Riverwalk project is slated for completion by late fall 2023.
The Aviation Walk section in front of L.P. Frans Stadium was completed just in time for the Hickory Crawdads baseball season. Drivers of U.S. 321 may have noticed a new Hickory-lettered bridge spanning the highway. The steel structure for the new Aviation Walk pedestrian bridge over U.S. 321 was set in January. Contractors are working in multiple locations along the Aviation Walk, with different sections at varying levels of completion.
The Historic Ridgeview Walk will connect the Ridgeview community to downtown Hickory and U.S. 70. The project plans to incorporate historical markers along the route to recognize and celebrate people and places of historical significance in Ridgeview, as identified by community stakeholders. The design will incorporate and complement The Untouchables monument at the corner of Seventh Avenue SW and Third Street SW. This project will also make improvements to the intersection at U.S. 70 with enhanced pedestrian crossing to the Walmart Neighborhood Market. The pedestrian crossing enhancements will include at-grade, high visibility crosswalks with pedestrian signals. Once started, construction of the Historic Ridgeview Walk will take approximately 18 months.
The fifth portion of the Trail is the OLLE Art Walk that will run along Old Lenoir Road to connect the City Walk to the Riverwalk and Aviation Walk segments. Once a major thoroughfare into and out of the central business district of Hickory, this area is now home to retail boutiques, a budding arts district and a variety of businesses. The city expects to bid the OLLE Art Walk project this fall. Construction of this section of the Hickory Trail will take approximately 24 months.
Investments and development
In addition to enhanced connectivity throughout the city via the Hickory Trail and job creation at Trivium Corporate Center, Hickory’s bond program is also proving successful in generating private investment in the form of new restaurants, housing opportunities, entertainment venues and commercial development.
One North Center, a mixed-use development on Main Avenue, now offers downtown living and retail space directly on the City Walk. This venture has opened two new restaurants — Cowa Saké and Frothy Rooster. Approximately two blocks east of One North Center, the same developer is investing $20 million to renovate a building for commercial use and construct a new mixed-use project, called One Eleven Main, to offer additional market rate apartments and retail space. On the adjacent property, a warehouse is being transformed into a brewery, distillery and barbecue restaurant. City Walk Brewing & Distilling and Cranford Brothers Barbeque are anticipating grand openings this fall. The Premier, a live music venue directly on the City Walk path, opened its doors this spring on 11th Street NW. These are just a few examples of projects along the Hickory Trail.
From a new Airbnb hotel, to restaurants, entertainment venues, retail businesses, corporate headquarters expansions and a new fiber-to-the-home network via Metronet, companies are locating in Hickory.
In early March 2022, Metronet broke ground on construction of its 100 percent fiber optic infrastructure in Hickory. Metronet is fully funding the multimillion-dollar project that will provide Hickory residents and businesses with access to ultra-high-speed internet. Metronet’s first Hickory customers will soon go live with the service. Upon completion, Hickory will become a Gigabit City with Metronet’s future-proof fiber optic network.
Another project that is expected to enhance Hickory’s local economy is the renovation and expansion of the Hickory Metro Convention Center. The Hickory-Conover Tourism Development Authority, Hickory City Council and Conover City Council held a special meeting on Sept. 15, 2022, and approved plans for this project, which officially broke ground in May 2023. Once completed, the Hickory Metro Convention Center facility will be approximately 165,600 square feet, all on one level, with 132,000 usable square feet for meetings and events, which makes it even more attractive for recruiting large conferences and sporting events that yield significant economic impact.
In addition to the market rate housing opportunities cropping up through private investment, the City of Hickory has also taken an active role in creating affordable housing in the community. In 2022, the City partnered with JRN Development to construct six affordable homes in the Ridgeview community. A ribbon cutting celebrated the completion of the new homes on Sept. 21, 2022. In December 2022, Hickory City Council approved the second phase of development with JRN to build 10 affordable homes in 2023.
The largest economic development announcement in Hickory’s history came last year when Microsoft Corp. unveiled plans on November 9, 2022, to invest a minimum of $1 billion in the phased development of four datacenters in Catawba County over the next 10 years. The datacenters will be located in Conover, Hickory and Maiden and will create at least 50 new jobs. Two of these facilities will be in Hickory. This type of investment will create substantial tax revenue without consuming a proportionate amount of city resources to provide services.
Innovation and higher education
A skilled labor force is vital for economic development and the success of any community. As the revitalization of Hickory continues with investments in public infrastructure, housing and business, Hickory’s educational partners, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Appalachian State University and Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) are working together to transform lives by investing in the people of the region.
Hickory Aviation Museum and CVCC Workforce Innovation Center
Aviation and education will come together in a groundbreaking new facility at the Hickory Regional Airport. The City of Hickory partnered with the Sabre Society of North Carolina/Hickory Aviation Museum and CVCC to construct a new building at Hickory Regional Airport to house the museum's vintage military aircraft, preserve aviation history and provide STEM education and workforce development opportunities to the Hickory region.
The expanded Hickory Aviation Museum will feature a hangar to preserve and display aircraft and will also serve as the site of CVCC's Workforce Innovation Center, a regional educational campus with flexible use space providing high-tech equipment, classrooms and virtual simulators for training. Visit www.elevatehky.com to learn more and see renderings of the facility.
App State Hickory Campus
As a premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian currently enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
Recognizing that App State’s growth potential in Boone was limited, the university started looking for areas that have growth capacity and market potential for both on-campus and online programs. The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metro Area — with a population of more than 365,000 — was identified as the largest metro area in North Carolina without a state university presence.
To remedy this realization, Appalachian State University closed on the purchase of a 225,800-square-foot building on Nov. 19, 2021, to establish the App State Hickory Campus. The former Corning Optical Communications building on U.S. 321 transformed into Hickory’s first public university campus. The six-story building is larger than any building on App State’s Boone campus and sits on 15.7 acres of land with large open spaces, a cafeteria and nearly 700 parking spaces.
“Hickory is a vibrant, growing city, just a short drive from Boone, that offers opportunities for App State to continue the mission we have had since 1899 — to increase access to education,” App State Chancellor Sheri Everts said at an event announcing the purchase.
The App State Hickory Campus has frontage along U.S. 321 and is ideally situated near the Aviation Walk and less than 2 miles from Hickory Regional Airport, four miles from I-40 and close to downtown Hickory, as well as two regional hospitals.
While the university continues developing plans for its Hickory programs, the location of the App State Hickory Campus within Hickory’s budding innovation district and the evolving educational needs of the region are sure to inspire its future offerings. The App State Hickory Campus welcomed its first students in the fall of 2023.
A vision realized
The Hickory that was once envisioned is now here. In early 2012, the City of Hickory recognized that a plan was necessary to economically revitalize the city. The resulting bond program has produced its intended results. To date, the economic activity at Trivium Corporate Center and along the Hickory Trail will support 2,066 jobs, has generated over $846 million in private investment and has spurred 1,226 new housing units within a half-mile of each project.
A few years ago, Hickory Mayor Hank Guess stated, “The Hickory of tomorrow is being created today. The efforts and investments we are making through the bond program to build connectivity and drive economic development will benefit our community and be felt by generations to come.”
Hickory is on the rise.
This article was featured in the Charlotte Business Journal as seen here.