FUSE NEWS: Gastonia's lofty sports, entertainment and mixed-use residential development project is underway, with plans to open a baseball stadium in spring 2021.

 
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Construction on Gastonia's 16-acre Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District started in December, a major milestone for the revitalization project also known as FUSE.

On paper, the 5,000-seat, $26.2 million stadium and outparcel restaurants, business sites and mixed-use residential development will fill the land gap between downtown Gastonia and the historic 1902 Loray Mill, now upfitted into loft apartments. But for Gastonia Mayor Walker Reid III, FUSE is also the start button on a machine that is revitalizing North Carolina's 13th-largest city.

Reid says FUSE already has attracted $75 million in private investment. The refurbishing of Trenton Mill, which will sit just beyond the outfield wall, began in January, turning the 1897 mill into 81,862 square feet of residential space, 84 apartments--at a development cost of $14.2 million.

On the stadium's right-field side, a North Carolina craft-beer company will begin to repurpose a 5,000-square-foot warehouse formerly owned by Coca-Cola into a brewery in February.

FUSE'S expectations have increased interest in other areas of downtown. There are talks of adding a distillery, a hotel with views of the stadium, and a restaurant called The Fed will open later this year in the former Citizens National Bank building on West Main Avenue.

FUSE's development is in part due to the fast-growing Gaston County, which can be traced across the Catawba River to Mecklenburg County: Commuter numbers going into Charlotte continue to rise as people choose to live in smaller surrounding cities like Gastonia.

"Gastonia has very nice historic buildings, and it's put us in the position at the right time to welcome the overflow from Charlotte, " says Kristy Ratchford Crisp, economic development director for Gastonia. "The success of Loray Mill has been a huge boost, and we see people who want to live here. People are looking at it as more affordable."

The city's population increased by 6,000 from 2010 to 2018, and adding more entertainment and retail options necessitates adding transportation options. Crowds soon will be able to get to venues such as FUSE more easily thanks to ongoing transportation projects.

Citing its link as a "vital corridor for commuters to the Charlotte metropolitan area," the N.C. Department of Transportation will widen Interstate 85 for a 10-mile segment from U.S. 321 in Gastonia to N.C. 273 in Mount Holly from six lanes to eight. The project will begin in 2024 at a cost of $262.8...

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