With uptown Charlotte’s popular EpiCentre entertainment complex up for sale, officials say the property’s future looks brighter than its troubled recent past.
They say the current owners are leaving the 305,000-square-foot complex in better shape than they found it.
The original owners filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 to avoid foreclosure. The Blue Air investment group subsequently bought the complex’s $94 million construction loan.
The group has invested $23 million in the property in the past two years, according to a sales listing by the group’s real estate brokers on the project, the Dallas office of commercial real estate firm HFF.
The owners have in the past year or so announced a variety of new tenants, including Studio Movie Grill, Hibachi Grill, an Italian restaurant called La Tagliatela and a music spot, Tin Roof.
The seven-building complex is 94 percent leased, according to the sales listing.
The owners had a risk-tolerant source of capital when they bought the property, said Ed Camp, director of business development and public relations for the EpiCentre. The decision to sell, he added, was reached because the capital provider “desires to cycle its investment into another asset.”
The next owner will benefit from a more stable stream of income, said Camp, who works with Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate firm hired to manage the property.
He added that the Blue Air group succeeded in cementing the complex’s place as the “town square” gathering spot for the city’s center.
Michael Smith, head of Charlotte Center City Partners, expressed similar thoughts in an emailed statement.
“They have had a vision for this important center and have made investments in the infrastructure and in re-tenanting, creating a stronger balance of restaurants and retailers,” he wrote of the owners.
“They will be leaving the EpiCentre well-positioned to assist Charlotte in our aspiration to be a memorable destination.”
The rejuvenation of the center, just in time for the Democratic National Convention in 2012, helped show the city’s economic strength, said Andrew Jenkins, a managing partner in Karnes Research’s Charlotte office.
“I would say that (the owners) looking to sell it likely means that they see the asset as more stabilized and perhaps they are looking for the next opportunity,” Jenkins said.
It is unclear what changes a sale might bring to the property. The sales listing boasts that tenants are under long-term leases, with more than $1 million worth of contractual rent increases slated during the next decade.
The listing doesn’t include an asking price, but the tax value of the property stands at $61.7 million, county property records show.
Anne Monsted, owner of a Smoothie King shop in the complex, said she has no complaints with how things have been going at the EpiCentre recently.
“As far as the current owners go, I’ve been happy with them,” she said. “I feel like most tenants are pretty happy.”
That wouldn’t include Brandon Viebrock, owner of the Revolution clothing store and Mortimer’s Cafe and Pub. Revolution is completing a move to East Boulevard at month’s end, he said, following a dispute with the owners over his lease.
He said he brought the clothing store to the EpiCentre after the original owners told him his store would draw other clothiers to the complex, and that a planned high-rise condo tower on the property would bring more customers.
The tower was abandoned in the economic downturn, however. Unfinished columns still poke upward out of the complex’s roof.
Viebrock said he’d hoped the new owners would bring in more retail outlets during the renovations, but additional bars and restaurants arrived.
“What did it bring to the EpiCentre that wasn’t already there?” he asked. “There’s been little done in my opinion to really help the existing retailers thrive and get a good tenant mix in there.”
He added that elevators and escalators periodically break down.
Camp suggested Viebrock’s point of view isn’t a full accounting of the health of the complex. He reiterated that the ownership group has invested millions in rejuvenating the property, and said Revolution was offered a chance to pay fair market rent for its space.
The lease dispute was settled in mediation, he said.
Frazier: 704-358-5145 or @Ericfraz on Twitter.
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