Pat Rodgers is a vocal supporter of Charlotte’s eastside, the longtime home base of her company, Rodgers Builders Inc. But she admits it hasn’t always been easy.
It’s an area that has struggled with economic decline, including the 2010 closing of Eastland Mall, once a vibrant retail hub in the city.
“I’m a big advocate of east Charlotte, and I told some of our city leaders for years, ‘You’d better be careful, you’d better watch the eastside, it’s an important component of Charlotte and you’re taking your eyes off of it,’ ” Rodgers, the building company’s president and CEO, told eastside business leaders at a Charlotte Chamber event last week. “And I would never miss an opportunity to tell a City Council member that.”
Around 2005, she said, the company considered moving from its North Sharon Amity Road corporate office – an idea later squashed by the recession.
Now, almost 51 years after her husband, B.D. Rodgers, founded the company, Rodgers Buildings plans to stay where it has thrived. Rodgers Builders is recognized as one of the region’s largest commercial builders, with additional offices in uptown Charlotte, Raleigh and Greenville, S.C.
Building in the education, health care and commercial sectors, Charlotte projects include: Central Piedmont Community College’s Harper Campus, Culinary Arts Center and Health Careers Building; the Healthcare Pavilion at Carolinas Medical Center-Kannapolis and CMC-Steele Creek; Ballantyne Village retail and office; and the Belk retail stores at Southpark and Carolina Place Mall.
Notable efforts funded through public and private sources include Johnson & Wales, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, ImaginOn, BB&T Ballpark and the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
With about 250-260 employees – “a little lower” than pre recession levels, Rodgers said – the current revenue range is $350 million to $450 million.
These days, Rodgers sees great potential for an eastside revitalization that could include redeveloping the areas of Eastland Mall and the Independence Boulevard corridor.
“We have a great opportunity to do something really pretty dramatic for the city, when you stop and think of the opportunities of what’s available for redevelopment on the eastside,” Rodgers told the Observer last week.
“I get excited about it because there aren’t too many other parts of the community that have the opportunities that I think the eastside has.”
Rodgers talked about the climate for commercial construction in Charlotte, and the benefits of partnering with other companies and public entities to land projects. Questions and comments have been edited for clarity and brevity:
Q. Are you seeing any changes with how the city views the eastside?
A. Yes we are. You notice things as you drive into your office every day. We see more attention being paid to the public landscaping. We have seen the traffic patterns pick up. It appears to us that there’s a great deal more traffic in the eastside, the University corridor, the Harris Boulevard corridor, North Sharon Amity corridor. So hopefully that will begin to be a catalyst for more retail. Someone asked me several years ago what I thought we need on the eastside. I said we need Starbucks.
I think we are beginning to see some changes and more attention. And we should be. It’s a vital part of the region, and a vital part of Mecklenburg County. As the (Lynx) Blue Line gets developed out to UNC Charlotte, I think we’ll see more attention paid to the eastside.
Q. Do you hope to be involved in projects involving Eastland Mall’s redevelopment? (The city bought and demolished the 80-acre site with the hope of redeveloping the property.)
A. That’s a lot of acreage sitting there that needs to be redeveloped. That’s a large piece of property in the heart of eastside. Something needs to happen, whether that happens through a public-private partnership, or public funding, private funding, or a combination. It’s a shame to see it sitting there, doing nothing, not providing any tax base.
(To be involved) it would depend upon if it’s something that’s in our area of expertise, if it’s something that would be part of our market sector. It could be something totally unrelated to what we do. It would have to be something that made sense for us.
A project that creates jobs and adds to the tax base would be beneficial, but it would need to be something that can survive over time. I’d hate to see something come and go for a short period of time. It needs to be something substantial that has staying power. And I don’t know what that is
Q. Do you think the Studio Charlotte proposal fits that definition? (A development group is hoping to turn the Eastland Mall property into a massive movie studio complex.)
A. I don’t know anything about that project. I don’t know enough about it to comment.
Q. How is business, and how did your company weather the recession?
A. It was not easy; it was very challenging. Being 50 years old, we’re a relatively conservative company. And I think that serves us well. The construction industry has never been for the faint of heart. We still see a great deal of uncertainty in the marketplace. We seem to gain a little ground and lose a little ground. Momentum is still pretty elusive to the construction industry right now.
Q. Did you scale back on the types of projects you do?
A. We didn’t want to downsize; the projects were downsized for us. People just either didn’t have the capital to increase their infrastructure, or they took a wait and see attitude to see what they had to do. Most of our clients are pretty conservative as well. So while we were eager to do the same type and size of projects, they just weren’t available.
Q. Did you have any layoffs?
A. We cut back, again, because the project startups were not there. We had been going at a pretty rapid pace for five to seven years, one project after the other. Those projects started coming in slower, so as those projects didn’t materialize at a rapid pace, then of course resources had to change.
That was across the board, throughout the entire organization. Back in ’06, ’07, we had a lot of interns. As we moved forward, we didn’t have as many summer interns. Things like that. We took very strategic moves so we could have a minimum impact on the organization.
Q. Do you see Rodgers or the local construction sector overall getting back to pre-recession levels this year?
A. No, not in 2014. There’s still some uncertainty in the marketplace. Government spending has tapered off. Health care has remained relatively flat. We’re beginning to see a return to some commercial. But there was a lot of supply out there already. I think it’s going to take a while for more demand.
I think into ’15, latter half of ’15, going into ’16, we’re optimistic that we’ll see more robust growth at that time.
Q. You’ve talked about Rodgers Builders being involved in 30 joint ventures with other larger or smaller companies. How does that fit into the mix of what you do?
A. It helps us grow in markets that we weren’t in previously, didn’t have access to. It helps us to grow in some geographic areas that we had not previously been in.
Q. Any other thoughts on eastside development?
A. I’m optimistic that the leadership in the community will find a way to redevelop Eastland Mall into whatever the right thing is. And I think one of the best things that has happened to the eastside is the diversity that we have. I think a lot will generate from that diversity.
Smith: 704-358-5087; Twitter @celestesmithobs
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