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Sky’s the limit for development

Back before the recession, Charlotte grew like gangbusters.

Our banks kept gobbling up other banks, bringing new jobs and more money to the city. Office towers and high-rise condos kept sprouting uptown – many of them built by the banks or occupied by companies that work with the banks.

But when the bottom fell out of the national economy, Charlotte took a hard hit.

We lost more than 4,000 financial sector jobs between December 2008 and December 2009 alone, not to mention more than 4,000 manufacturing sector jobs.

Construction slowed to a crawl. In 2006, before the housing bubble burst, Census figures show homebuilders secured permits for more than 9,200 single-family homes in Mecklenburg County. In 2012, they got permits for just 3,200.

About 3 million square feet of office space came on the market uptown just as the financial crisis took hold. As the economic recovery continues, vacancy rates have fallen so low that some officials fear a shortage of top tier office space uptown.

It has been years since the big banks have built a new skyscraper uptown; no one’s quite sure who will build the next one.

Still, there’s a sense that the local economy has stabilized in the past couple of years, even if it hasn’t recaptured anything near the dynamic pace it once enjoyed.

The Charlotte housing market is picking up steam; by mid-July, home prices and sales were rising. Insurance giant MetLife this spring lifted the region’s spirits when it announced plans to move its U.S. retail operations and more than 1,300 jobs to suburban Ballantyne Corporate Park.

Development in the South End is hot, with new apartment complexes popping up along the Lynx light rail corridor. More rail-influenced development is expected north of the city, now that the $1.16 billion project to extend light rail service to UNC Charlotte is under way.

While office towers aren’t going in uptown, plenty of other projects were under construction this year. They include Skye Condominiums, a 22-story mixed use project; BB&T Ballpark, future home of the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball team; and Romare Bearden Park, a five-acre green space at South Church and Third streets.

Eric is a business reporter for the Observer.
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