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Small Towns, Big Changes in Elizabeth City, NC

This North Carolina city is seeing a slew of new developments.

By Rebecca Deurlein on April 26, 2023

Dismal Swamp State Park
Camden County Tourism Development Authority

Elizabeth City is flourishing, as community and retail development projects are underway or have come on line. With new green spaces, shopping areas and residences, the city, known as the “Harbor of Hospitality,” is living up to its name.

Community Space

Receiving a $10,000 grant as part of Lowe’s 100 Hometowns Project, Elizabeth City turned a formerly unused, unsightly alley into an experience-based outdoor haven.

The new Fowler Alley Community Space is centered among five recently restored historic buildings; together, they have transformed and revitalized the area. The alley, lined with brick pavers and newly painted, features multiple public art pieces and offers seating and turf areas.

In 2022, Pasquotank County bought 48 acres along U.S. Highway 158 in the north end of the county to create a community park. The purchase was partially funded by a grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. In 2023, a subsequent Parks and Recreation grant will now partially fund development of the land, including a playground, walking paths, a pavilion and a basketball court.

Retail, Entertainment and Lodging

Capitalizing on Americans’ reignited passion for vinyl records and a return to old-school music, Shut Up & Listen Records opened in 2022. This veteran-owned store sells new and used vinyl records (both LPs and 45s), vintage music posters and turntables.

Avdet Brewing Co. opened in 2022 inside the Kenyon Bailey Building and features rotating beers on tap. Its name is an acronym – AVDET stands for Aviation Detachment after the veterans who own and operate this nanobrewery. Visitors can sample beers and hear live music that is geared toward a family-friendly crowd. The brewery also hosts special and seasonal events that provide fun outings and special deals each day of the week. 

Two recently restored buildings — Harbor Centre and the fully rented Waterworks Building — provide office, retail and Airbnb space in key areas of Elizabeth City. Harbor Centre houses a drive-thru independent pharmacy, various businesses and a host of local artisans, whose artwork is displayed throughout. Plans for the second floor include short-term rental spaces and a rooftop bar. Just two blocks away on the waterfront, the Waterworks Building features the new casual restaurant Sagos on the River, where visitors can arrive by boat or car and enjoy a seafood dinner or drinks at the large tiki bar.

Developer Dana Rabon says the community has embraced these new additions.

“We’ve had so many compliments, and now other people are investing in downtown. When one person starts doing something, the energy flows. We’re all like a family, and that’s important for small towns.”

Dana Rabon

Library and Local Government

When the Camden County Public Library opened in a new 11,700-square-foot building in 2022, it quickly established itself as a hub for community activity. Its programming is diverse and attracts people of all ages: a typical calendar month is filled with times for Book Buddies, Story Time, Parking Lot Cinema, Family Night and Book Clubs. Special and seasonal events offer activities, games and learning opportunities for all ages. Members can even have a book bundle personally curated for them based on favorite genres and authors.

The new library building also provides space for a community meeting room and a commissioner and committee boardroom. The second phase of the project will add administration and civic buildings housing the Camden County Center for Active Adults and the Camden Parks and Recreation Department.

New Residences

Betsy Town Flats is an exciting new downtown apartment complex at the former Elizabeth City Middle School.

The planned 88-apartment space will include one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments and a limited number of studios. Square footage ranges from approximately 700 square feet for a one-bedroom to 1,300 square feet for a two-bedroom. Amenities include a pool, a fitness center, a movie room, and fenced parking. The first 28 apartments were available in December 2022, with all apartments completed by summer of 2023.

Highways, Sidewalks and Bikeways

Elizabeth City’s infrastructure is getting a bit of a facelift. Construction work began in 2022 on U.S. Route 17 Bypass, which will eventually become part of future Interstate 87. The new interstate will be a $1 billion project that will connect Norfolk and Raleigh, with Elizabeth City being one of the main cities along that 213-mile route

City officials say once I-87 is built, it will become a major trucking corridor and open the door to interest from more distributors and manufacturers who wouldn’t have considered locating to Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County before. Officials add that the interstate will open a long-needed major East Coast route between the two mid-Atlantic states of North Carolina and Virginia.

Another key infrastructure improvement for Elizabeth City will be the addition of a 3.6-mile multiuse path along Weeksville Road. Thanks to a $2 million federal grant, the new pathway will include more sidewalks, bikeways, crosswalks and traffic signals that will better connect Weeksville Road residents to schools, parks, small businesses, Elizabeth City State University and the U.S. Coast Guard Base.

City officials add that besides more connectivity advantages for Weeksville Road residents, the project will also provide residents along Halstead Boulevard with safer access to schools, parks, grocery stores, businesses and workplaces.

Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.

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