Construction cranes are swinging back and forth across Charlotte’s skyline, the sure sign of a building boom.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from the depths of the Great Recession, when half-finished and unsold condominium towers dotted uptown as construction ground to a near-halt. Now, strong population growth and the second leg of the city’s light rail system are powering the next wave of building.
Here are five things to know about what’s driving Charlotte’s current construction bonanza:
1. A record number of apartments are under construction
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The latest numbers from Charlotte-based apartment-tracking firm Real Data show there are about 12,300 apartments under construction and another 13,500 planned. But if you’ve driven around town, you probably don’t need official data to tell you about the city’s surge of new apartments. The construction is evident in new towers uptown and five-story wood-framed apartments that seem to be popping up on every corner in close-in neighborhoods such as Plaza Midwood and South End.
So what’s driving the boom? Well, during the recession, there was very little new apartment construction. But people kept moving to Charlotte: 17,695 new people moved to the city from July 2014 to July 2015. That translates into plenty of demand to fill new apartments.
So far, the flood of new apartments hasn’t resulted in higher vacancy rates. Axiometrics reported that in May, 95.8 percent of the city’s apartments were full. That’s up from 95.4 percent during the same month in 2015. And rents are still rising: The average rent for an apartment in Charlotte was $1,014, up almost 5 percent from a year ago.
2. Development is following the northern extension of the CATS Blue Line
The first leg of Charlotte’s light rail opened in 2007, running from Interstate 485 to uptown. Now, the next segment is under construction, with an expected opening in late summer 2017. The $1.2 billion, 9.3-mile extension will run from Ninth Street uptown to UNC Charlotte.
Much like in South End, which attracted thousands of new apartments and residents in the last decade, the new light rail extension is drawing investment and residents. New developments are clustered around the future stations, such as the Crescent NoDa apartments under construction at East 36th Street and the apartment building by NRP Group underway near the Parkwood Station. Expect more developments to spread along the line and fill in the gaps between stations in the coming years.
3. Changing neighborhoods cause controversy
If you are just moving to Charlotte, you won’t experience hangouts like the Common Market in South End, music venue Chop Shop in NoDa and dive bar Tommy’s Pub in Plaza Midwood. They’re local businesses that have been pushed out for new development (An office building in South End, apartments in NoDa and Plaza Midwood). And other businesses, such as Jackalope Jacks in Elizabeth, are also on the chopping block as the wave of development rolls onward.
That can cause conflict between residents who worry about neighborhoods losing their character and developers who see attractive opportunities to build in popular areas. The tension will continue as long as more people want to move to close-in, established neighborhoods that already have their own identities.
4. Mixed-use projects are happening in Charlotte’s outer ring as well
While developments in uptown and its immediately surrounding neighborhoods tend to attract the most attention, they’re not the only dense, mixed-use projects featuring apartments, shops, restaurants and offices being built in Charlotte. Such projects are popping up around the city’s outer ring as well, areas that have traditionally been dominated by single-family subdivisions.
At Providence Road and Interstate 485, three developers are building major new projects that will bring thousands of new apartments, houses, restaurants, shops and offices to the interchange. West of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Crescent Communities and Lincoln Harris are working together on the River District, a 1,300-acre new development that will completely reshape a big chunk of the city over the next 25 years. And at I-485 and Brookshire Boulevard, 115-acre Riverbend Village is taking shape.
5. Speculative office space is back
Office developers are building a wave of new towers that should open in 2017, totaling about 1.5 million square feet of new space. It’s the first big surge of new office development since the recession.
Major new office towers are under construction in uptown, Dilworth, SouthPark and Ballantyne. They include 300 South Tryon (25 stories), 615 South College (19 stories), 500 East Morehead (seven stories), the Brigham Building in Ballantyne Corporate Park (10 stories) and Capitol Towers in SouthPark (10 stories).
Ely Portillo is the Observer’s development reporter.