Darrel Williams is a man discontent with the status quo. Williams, 56 is a former four-term Mecklenburg County commissioner who formed a different type of design firm in 1996 with a focus on transforming communities through architecture.
Even the name of his firm, Neighboring Concepts, which he founded with Michael O’Brien and Chris Ogunrinde, is suggestive of an inclusive organization that works to bridge connections between various stakeholder groups in public and private projects touching the community.
Williams is an architect, real estate developer, project manager, deal maker and catalyst. “One thing I wanted to change with our firm was the tendency for people to move out of challenged neighborhoods when they had the opportunity,” said Williams, “I am much more interested in providing resources to help empower them to change their surroundings from within, make things better, and become a neighborhood where they will want to stay.”
Williams said he’s faced hurdles from lenders, and has been told by more than one banker that he was working on the “wrong side of I-77.” For one of the firm’s redevelopment efforts, 1230 W. Morehead St. – a 68,000 square-foot office condominium project in Charlotte’s historic Wesley Heights neighborhood – Williams lined up his own buyers with approved loans to close deals. Neighboring Concepts is headquartered inside the building.
The firm celebrated significant accomplishments in 2012, including partnering with the global firm Populous as event architect for the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena in September.
Winning the contract, Williams said, was “the culmination of having solid relationships across a very wide network … validating our approach and inspiring us to move forward.”
In October, Williams, working with current partner, Luis Tochiki, opened Mosaic Village, a $25 million housing and retail complex along West Trade Street near Johnson C. Smith University.
Coordinating the project with multiple parties – including land owners, JCSU president Dr. Ronald Carter, city leaders and neighborhood associations – took years of planning, proposals and work from Williams.
Today, Williams said, Mosaic Village represents the culmination of an idea centered squarely on neighborhood betterment.
“Dr. Carter saw the entire West Trade Street/Beatties Ford Road corridor as part of the JCSU campus,” said Williams. “He knew for the university to thrive, the surrounding area needed to as well.”
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