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Developers plan 15-story office tower on Westin hotel property uptown

Developers planning a new office tower uptown are hoping the project is just what Charlotte needs to lure another major company to the center city.

Portman Holdings, the Atlanta-based company that built the Westin hotel in 2003, is sketching out a 15-story, 350,000-square-foot office building on top of the property’s parking deck at South College and Stonewall streets.

The numbers alone don’t indicate a huge need for a new office building. With a vacancy rate near 12 percent, it’s not hard to find pockets of space in a half-dozen or more towers uptown. Portman Holdings announced plans for the site two different times in the last decade, but each time the plans were shelved amid a slowing economy.

Now Portman says the timing is finally right. Market experts say there are too few large blocks of space that could bring in a Fortune 500 company.

“The fundamentals are right. The need is there,” said Travis Garland, leasing manager at Portman Holdings. “It’s gotten back to the point where a new office makes sense.”

The project, which does not yet have a name, would be the first office building completed uptown since 2010. That’s when the Duke Energy Center and 1 Bank of America Center opened with about 2 million square feet of office space between them.

For the last 25 years, there’s been demand for another 450,000 square feet or so uptown each year, said Andrew Jenkins, managing partner of Karnes Research Group. And banana giant Chiquita Brands International’s move into the NASCAR Plaza last year left little space available for a large company.

“That’s not adequate for a healthy growing market,” said Peter Conway, co-managing partner of Trinity Partners, who is working on marketing the new property.

Developers in Ballantyne, on the other hand, have continued to market entire office buildings. Insurance provider MetLife chose the area for about 1,300 jobs announced in March. The company will lease roughly 340,000 square feet in the Gragg and Woodward buildings in Ballantyne Corporate Park. MetLife would not have found an uptown Charlotte office building with 200,000 empty square feet, Jenkins told the Observer last month.

Portman and Trinity are hoping the Lynx light rail line, which has a stop at the Westin property, will be a draw. A major company can also affix its logo to the side of the building overlooking Interstate 277, as Chiquita did at the NASCAR Plaza last year.

“For a tenant who’s interested in brand visibility and awareness, that’s a major draw,” Conway said.

Portman Holdings has been talking about an office building on the property ever since its 25-story hotel opened. The company floated the idea in late 2003, but the project never got off the ground.

In 2007, the company announced plans for a 40-story high-rise condo tower known as “One Charlotte.” The project was shelved a year later.

This time around, Portman hopes to have an architectural rendering complete in the next 30 to 60 days.

Once that’s done, Trinity Partners will be more aggressive about shopping the plans to potential tenants. Portman hopes to have commitments for about half of the building before beginning construction.

One block away, Crescent Resources said in February it plans to build a project anchored by an office building that could also include apartments and retail. That site is at South Tryon and Stonewall, across from the Observer.

Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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