The Charlotte School of Laws building on Wilkinson Boulevard right outside the Interstate 277 loop stands as a lonely outpost of revitalization, the only building thats materialized so far in a $250-million mixed-use project first announced a decade ago.
But now, with the law school planning to relocate to an uptown office tower next fall, the developer is trying to find another tenant to occupy the soon-to-be empty building.
In 2008, the City Council voted to reimburse the developer up to $3.2 million for building a road between Wilkinson Boulevard and Morehead Street as part of the development.
The money would mostly come from a reimbursement of property taxes generated from the new buildings. The city also set aside $1 million that came from the sale of a parcel of land the city sold near Time Warner Cable Arena.
The city hasnt paid the developer Merrifield/Crosland any money. Road construction was supposed to begin by the end of 2012, but city economic director Brad Richardson said he expects the developer to ask for an extension.
They have an empty building to market now, Richardson said.
When the city approved the incentives, the for-profit Charlotte School of Law was part of the vision for the development, the former site of Radiator Specialty Co. But the law schools departure doesnt change the terms of the deal, the city said.
In 2002 the developer and Radiator Specialty Co., owned by the Blumenthal family, first announced plans to redevelop the 30-acre former industrial site. The first tenant, the Charlotte School of Law, moved into its new $20 million building in 2008.
Merrifield Partners, the name of the developer at the time, said in 2008 that the redevelopment would include 1 million square feet of buildings and 2,000 residences.
Four years later, only the law school building, a parking lot and cleared fields one with a Park at your own risk sign mark the site.
Merrifield partner George Macon said the economic downturn torpedoed the development. Back in 2008, the timing was not great, he said.
Its a setback to have the law school moving out, said Macon. But he remains upbeat about the projects future. In the long term, our vision is still for that to be a mixed-use area ... Weve just got to hope and wait for economic activity to improve.
The Charlotte School of Law has signed a lease for 10 floors at the Charlotte Plaza office tower, officials said earlier this month. The move is only about two miles, but will offer the school more than double its current square footage. School officials said they considered building a second building at their current location on Wilkinson, but decided to move uptown for the added convenience.
Office space available
More than a dozen properties have for sale or for lease signs in a mile along Morehead and Wilkinson, a gateway to uptown from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Brian Fincher, president of the Camp Greene Neighborhood Association, also said hes still optimistic about the area. We hate that the law school decided to leave rather than build another building on their site, Fincher said. Its still Class A office space, with a view of uptown.
He is confident the development will resume, whenever the economy turns around and more office space is needed. Charlottes office vacancy rate has been dropping, falling to 17.9 percent in the second quarter from 18.4 percent reported at the end of last year, according to the Karnes research firm.
The empty site, covered in grass and a few scrubby trees, has a few beer cans and tires littering the edges. But since its tucked between busy Wilkinson Boulevard, a television broadcasting site and Bryant Park, Fincher said it hasnt been a detriment to the nearby residential neighborhood.
Fincher also points to new restaurants, including Pinkys Westside Grill and The Burger Co., that have opened near Freedom Drive and Morehead Street. New apartment complexes such as Wesley Village are leasing well, developers say.
Other developers are also waiting to see if the economy improves before going ahead with projects. A sign across from Charlotte School of Law, on the other side of Wilkinson Boulevard, announces the City View office and warehouse development is coming soon.
I would say the odds are reasonable that we would start something in 2013, said David Nance, managing partner of the developer Berkshire Business Centers. He said the groups partners are meeting in the next few weeks to decide whether the economy warrants starting the project.
Its certainly disappointing about the School of Law moving downtown, said Nance. They were a good anchor. To have to see that backfilled again is not a positive.
City View would be a $4 million to $4.5 million development with 50,000 square feet of office and warehouse space for small businesses. Nance said he thinks the development can succeed independently of the outcome at the law school site. Staff writer Kerry Singe contributed.