Hugh McColl isnt bashful about the Bank of America Corporate Center.
I wanted a building that reeked of power and wealth, he said, but was warm and friendly.
The tower rises 871 feet above the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, the center of the center city. At 60 stories, the building is the tallest in Charlotte, as well as the tallest between Philadelphia and Atlanta. You can see it from 35 miles away.
Wednesday, it turned 20.
I wanted something that would last, McColl said in an interview with WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner. (Something) that would reflect well on our company. An asset to our city, not just our company. And I believe it is, 20 years after the fact. I think it still looks great.
McColl, now 77, was Bank of Americas chief executive until he retired in 2001, and he oversaw the towers construction. Before that, as CEO of North Carolina National Bank, he took advantage of changes in finance laws that allowed banks to expand beyond state borders. NCNB swallowed up other lenders and became NationsBank, which in turn merged with Bank of America in 1998.
When the mergers piled up, so did the need for more space. There was, however, another reason for McColl to build a skyscraper.
Ill have to admit that we wanted to do something dramatic on our end of town, he said.
In uptown, the southern end of Tryon Street was First Union territory (First Union would go on to merge with Wachovia, which was purchased by Wells Fargo). The northern end belonged mostly to NCNB.
There was nothing north of The Square, said McColl. Everything was south, including the 40-story NCNB headquarters.
Some saw the skyscrapers as a personal competition between McColl and First Union CEO Ed Crutchfield. McColl brushed that aside.
I dont remember that being as important as us deciding we were going to build a skyscraper, he said, emphasizing that word: Skyscraper.
I wanted to build a skyscraper as opposed to a tall building, said McColl. There are lots of tall buildings in the United States. A lot of them were built very tall with a flat top. They had no lasting street appeal or skyline appeal.
NCNB hired architect Cesar Pelli to design the tower.
He gave us a building that looks like more stone than glass, said McColl. So when youre looking at our building from afar, it looks like a huge powerful granite building. But when youre in it, youve got great perspective and great views.
My thinking was, he said, were going to build something thats going to dominate the skyline forever.
A 24-hour city
Uptown Charlotte had a problem in the late 1980s: It was dead after 5 p.m.
I did a story one time walking uptown with an urban planner who says, Well, if Charlotte is an up-and-coming city, I should be able to find a Snickers bar after 5 oclock, said Doug Smith, a Charlotte native who covered development for the Observer for decades. So we walked from one end of Tryon, south all the way to north, and everything was closed.
He finally found a Snickers bar at a convenience store in the 400 block of North Tryon.
McColl wanted to change that.
When I was a young man, I traveled into big cities. First New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, and then quite a bit into Hong Kong and London. What struck me about all of the big cities in the world was that they all had people living downtown, and they had a lot of nighttime activity.
I wanted a 24-hour city.
NCNB announced the building of the skyscraper in 1986, and broke ground in 1989. Construction workers found gold flakes while digging out the foundation, a remnant of Charlottes gold-mining days. In March 1991, the tower overtook the 588-foot One First Union Center (now One Wells Fargo Center) to become Charlottes tallest skyscraper.
In May 1992, the crown on top, and its 384 spires were lit for the first time. And on Oct. 24, 1992, more than 40,000 people showed up to help NationsBank dedicate the building.
The bank famously had to ask the Federal Aviation Administrations permission to build 66 stories (the tower has 60 stories offices, the final six are the top).
I always say that two South Carolinians built this building, said McColl. Me, from Bennettsville, South Carolina, and Sen. (Ernest) Hollings, because we had to go to the FAA to get permission.
The view from 51st floor
McColl still has an office on the 51st floor of the corporate center. He has a pair of binoculars, his field glasses, nearby. He looks down a lot.
I can see what is being developed, and what needs to be developed, he said. When someone says were gonna put in a ballpark for instance, I can look out a window and say, Mmm, yeah, thatll work.
The new Charlotte Knights ballpark, the Carolina Panthers practice field and the under-construction Romare Bearden Park are all within view.
Today, another skyscraper gets a lot of attention.
I will admit that if youre coming from the airport, you see (the) Duke Energy (Center), and it looks larger than this building and its, of course, not, McColl said with a laugh. It just depends on your perspective.