After talking about creating an urban village in First Ward since 1998, Levine Properties is finally planning to break ground in December on a project involving space for businesses, apartments and a park.
The city is also invested in the project: Up to $23.7 million in property taxes will go back to Levine Properties for the construction of parking decks, which will be for public and private use.
When the 15-year project is complete, First Ward, the area of uptown northeast of Trade and Tryon streets, will be home to a public park, three parking decks, apartments, office space, restaurants and stores. At least eight city blocks will be part of the urban village.
The project also includes extending 10th Street to connect Brevard and Tryon streets, said Daniel Levine, president of Levine Properties. The cost of the overall project could exceed $700 million.
The first phase of construction, which will cost $75 million, will include two parking decks, the park, 200 apartment units and the road connection. Levine said he expects the first phase of construction to last between 18 and 24 months.
Of the first two parking decks, one will be at Eleventh and Brevard streets and the other next to the UNC Charlotte uptown campus.
The First Ward project is a public-private venture because the parking decks will be funded through a tax increment grant with the city.
The grant will last for no more than 10 years, said Peter Zeiler, the city’s development and investment manager.
Levine Properties has to pay for the construction of the decks, but after they are built and property taxes are paid to the city, a portion of those property taxes will be returned to the company to defray the expense of the decks, which the city expects will cost $23.7 million.
Zeiler said whichever comes first – the end of 10 years or paying off the $23.7 million through property taxes – will end the city’s involvement in parking deck funding. In the long run, he said, the parking will pay for itself.
“The city, for the parking, is not paying any money out of the general fund,” Zeiler said. “The only source of funds is by taxes paid for the new development.”
The project’s original plan called for four parking decks, one of which would be below ground. But, because building an underground deck was too expensive, Levine Properties nixed it and expanded the plans for the other lots. Levine said there will be 1,335 spaces in the two decks.
One deck will be entirely public, and the other two will be a combination of public and private spaces, Zeiler said.
The city is involved in helping to fund the parking decks because there are parking areas already in use that will be demolished with the project’s construction, Zeiler said.
The public park will be across the street from ImaginOn, between Seventh and Brevard streets and extending into the next block where UNCC is.
Levine said the land for the park will be leveled.
“We will have an open area as big as a football field for concerts, fairs and throwing Frisbees around,” Levine said. “When we think of urban parks, we think of the Green, which is a beautiful park, but the park we’re talking about is more than five times the size of that park.”
The first phase also calls for 200 apartment units, although the project ultimately plans to include 1,500 units, Levine said. There are also 1.5 million square feet of office space planned, about 350 hotel rooms and about 350,000 square feet for street-level retail.
Levine Properties will build a privately owned road, Market Street, bordering the light rail between Seventh and Ninth streets. The company will also realign and rebuild parts of Brevard and Eighth streets, and Zeiler said the city will reimburse Levine with money that has already been allocated for uptown road improvements.
A new walkway will also be built to run from new apartments on 10th Street to UNCC.
Michael Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Charlotte Center City Partners, said he’s delighted with Levine’s plans for First Ward.
“This is a great way to knit those neighborhoods together and expand investment and expand jobs in the center city,” Smith said, adding that the project also improves First Ward’s infrastructure.
Levine said specifics on restaurants and stores have not been decided yet, but he thinks the eventual addition of such retail will fill a big void in uptown.
“One of the things we need in the center city is some fashion retail to round out some of the retail offerings,” he said. “I think our center city is on the verge of increasing residential population. When that happens ... those people want to participate in an urban lifestyle, and a lot of it has to do with urban retail or day-to-day living without having to get in their car and get to the shopping center.”