Arthur Johns was enjoying a cigar, an island of content in a nearly empty sea of asphalt and brick, as the regular tide of an ordinary Wednesday morning in the Ardmore neighborhood swirled around him.
Cars, sedans and SUVs mostly, flowed into the parking lot two blocks away at Moore Elementary. A handful of runners buzzed through and around Miller Park. Employees headed to (and from) work at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, the county’s largest employer.
All was quiet on the concrete stoop in the Cloverdale Apartments where Johns cheerfully puffed away. He’s a holdout, one of roughly 45 souls who’ve been handed their final, final notice that the World War II-era complex will soon come tumbling down.
Unlike some of his remaining neighbors, Johns isn’t terribly worried about what happens next. He’s been around long enough to know that change — redevelopment, rebranding, gentrification, whatever you want to call it — is coming. Whether he likes it or not.
“It’s capitalism, money,” he said. “Who cares? Nothing I can do about it.”
Though the story about the pending demolition of the Cloverdale Apartments isn’t new — ownership announced its intention in 2015 — it nevertheless came as something of a surprise Monday morning. The enormous headline was hard to miss.
"Last Call for Cloverdale"
The few remaining residents in the 168-unit complex had started receiving move-out notices.
“March 5. To me, financially, I’m not worried about it. But some around here, like the lady over there, won’t be able to afford it,” Johns said gesturing toward a nearby apartment with a little girl’s bike leaning against the wall.
The Cloverdale Apartments and their companion Ardmore Terrace across Cloverdale Avenue, were built just after World War II.
In the years since, it morphed into a bastion of affordable housing where working families, older folks on fixed incomes and people facing sudden change — divorce, job loss, death in the family — could find decent, safe housing within walking distance of just about everything.
But in 2015, Cloverdale Apartments LLC, the ownership group, gave notice through a developer that it intended to knock it all down and replace the sturdy brick structures with a mix of upscale new apartments, retail and office space. What else?
Zoning and the objection of City Councilman Dan Besse, who lived in the complex for a time himself, changed the script. Retail and office space would require rezoning, as would adding a new road; simply tearing the old apartments down and building new ones would not. Now, only Cloverdale is coming down; Ardmore Terrace has been given a reprieve.
“The new apartments will be market rate and completely unaffordable to a lot of people,” Besse said. “I do not approve of it, but do not have any legal or political power to stop it.”
To a handful of old(er)-timers in the city, the move is reminiscent of upheaval and displacement in the old College Village Apartments in Buena Vista in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Then, a group of investors led by flamboyant local developer Billy Satterfield, paid some $2.5 million for 27 apartment buildings in College Village and proceeded to first renovate and then sell them as individual condominiums.
“I just remember quite a few elderly and shut-in folks being displaced by that,” said David Fain, a lifelong city resident who delivered groceries for the College Village Food Market, in a retail building where the Diamondback Grill now stands. “It struck me when I saw the news about the Cloverdale Apartments.”
World of uncertainty
College Village, much like the Cloverdale Apartments, was built in 1947 when returning GI’s stretched thin existing housing stocks.
Unlike the current Cloverdale project, which is being overseen by heirs of the original owners, the College Village redevelopment involved a complicated sale involving multiple owners, trusts and sometimes competing interests in how things would proceed.
It was messy at times and caused some hard feelings.
To their credit, Carlisle Residential Properties — the complex’s management — has tried to cushion the blow. They stopped taking new lease applications in 2019, offered relocation assistance and the opportunity to move across the street to Ardmore Terrace or across town to Countryside Villa off Shattalon Drive.
Likening redevelopment at College Village to Cloverdale is in many ways an apples to onions comparison, but the end results could be similar.
Some long-time residents will be forced to move and enter a world of uncertainty. Johns took note of that while surveying the situation around him.
A parking lot within view of his stoop that could easily accommodate 50 or more cars held maybe a half dozen Wednesday morning. Johns has family in Georgia, retirement income and savings and “a part-time job to keep me busy."
“I’ll be OK. I have help, and I have options,” he said. “But other people, on (disability), they don’t have that extra. You can see where it will cause problems.”
Like it or not, ready or not, change happens. The old gives way to the new, price tags increase and people, sometimes those in the most precarious positions, pay a cost.