Charlotte developer Robert H. Percival left his mark on his adopted hometown in many ways: a hotel that was once the states largest; an office park that was one of the citys first mixed-use projects; and former employees whom he mentored, who later opened their own firms.
Percival, founder of what is now the Percival McGuire real estate firm and a longtime Charlotte community leader, died Sunday. He was 89.
Described by friends as an honest gentleman and dedicated businessman who cared about Charlotte, Percival helped shape the growth of the city. Friends say Percival remained active until the end, including attending a Halloween dance two weeks ago in full costume as a Spanish toreador and continuing to work real estate deals.
A prominent developer, Percival built the landmark Cameron Brown Building and former Sheraton Center in 1973, now the Blake Hotel. At one time, it was the largest hotel in North Carolina.
He developed Oakhill Business Park as well as Arrowood Southern Executive Park, one of the citys first mixed-use projects. He also helped found Foreign Trade Zone 57, a program for U.S. companies engaged in international trade.
Bob was 100 percent committed to the welfare of Charlotte, said Carroll Gray, former head of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. He worked tirelessly to support the things that would make us more attractive for local businesses and new businesses.
Colleagues on Wednesday remembered Percival as a man of integrity, one who could be trusted to stick to a deal secured only by a handshake.
Percival and his late wife, Kathleen, started their own real estate firm, Percivals Inc., in 1961. The firm, since renamed Percival McGuire, is now led by his son, Bob Percival.
The younger Percival said his father was a good mentor, proud of the many employees he counseled who later left the company to open their own firms.
Real estate consultant Cindy Chandler said Percival was one of the first people she did a commercial real estate deal with, and she was impressed with how he treated her.
He treated me like an equal, not like somebodys daughter or secretary, which was unusual in the 1970s, she said. Percival later became her go-to guy when she needed information because, she said, he was so gracious and self-effacing. And so helpful.
Developer Daniel Levine remembers meeting Percival 30 years ago and being genuinely welcomed by the real estate veteran.
Levine said Percival helped mediate a particularly difficult dispute Levine had with a former partner.
Because he was such a gentleman and came with such integrity, he was able to mediate that dispute not just amicably among two parties, but in such a way that both felt like it was a win for their side, Levine said.
Percival also showed foresight that helped shaped the citys future, civic leaders say.
Gray said in the early 1980s, Charlotte had a policy of letting developers pay for and put in sewer and water lines. The city would then buy the system from the developers, which resulted in the city growing only to the south.
Bob was one of those that felt we should change those policies and advocate leading the growth into areas that would be better for balanced growth, Gray said. It was very important. He was a good, solid, forward-thinking businessman.
Born June 5, 1923, in Salt Lake City, Percival moved with his family to Charlotte in 1929. He graduated from Central High School and attended N.C. State University for 1 1/2 years before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed in China, where he spent three years during World War II.
Upon his discharge in 1946, Percival enrolled in and later graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in mechanical engineering. He worked for Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., where he is said to have learned the art of customer service. He wed Kathleen Nicholson in 1956, and they were married for 47 years before she died in 2002.
Percival kept busy in real estate even as he grew older, still driving to his office each day, his son said. Recently, Percival was working with his son trying to figure a way for them to buy back the Cameron Brown Building on McDowell Street, a project his son said he was particularly proud of. The uptown office midrise fell into disrepair and was sold at foreclosure auction earlier this year.
He wanted that building back in its glory, the younger Percival said. He hated seeing its decline. He would say that building was built for the ages.
On Wednesday, Bob Percival said he planned to keep an appointment for one of his dads active real estate listings.
The neatest thing, he was such a big, big believer in this city. He loved to see it successful, the son said. Dad lived a life we should all aspire to live. He loved his family. He loved his faith. He loved his friends.
A celebration of Percivals life will be held 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Johns Episcopal Church, 1623 Carmel Road, Charlotte, with a reception following in the Parish Hall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Percivals name to The American Red Cross, The Wounded Warrior Project or the Regent Schools of the Carolinas.