In late 2014, construction started on a 25-story office and hotel project next to uptown’s Latta Arcade – a major milestone for Charlotte, which had not seen groundbreaking on an office tower since the recession.
Three years later, officials gathered Thursday for a grand opening of the 300 South Tryon development, which includes Charlotte’s first Kimpton hotel. The $330 million project is the latest addition to Charlotte’s skyline at a time when center city is undergoing a construction boom.
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The project is anchored by asset manager Barings. Its name is on the tower and it has already taken over about 30 percent for its new corporate headquarters.
For Barings and parent MassMutual, which owns the development, Thursday marked the culmination of a start-and-stop effort that pre-dates the recession. Initially, plans were to develop the site – at the time it was a parking lot – into an office tower with condominiums. But in early 2008, MassMutual called off the project as the economy soured.
“Really nice to be in it,” Barings CEO Tom Finke said in an Observer interview. “It’s hard to believe: three years. But here we are.”
Barings moved into the development in August, the first tenant to occupy the office tower.
Finke said he expects his firm to keep adding to its more than 380 employees in the building, Barings’ second-largest employment hub behind London’s roughly 450 employees. Barings has about 1,020 employees elsewhere in the U.S. and other countries.
Dozens of people turned out Thursday for a dedication ceremony that began at Romare Bearden Park, across the street from the new development. Later, Finke helped cut a large purple ribbon in a ceremony that included a ribbon-climbing acrobat and back-flipping performers.
Officials said more than half of the project’s 638,000 square feet of office space is leased. In addition to the 200-plus room luxury hotel, tenants include law firm King & Spalding, information technology management consulting firm CapTech and furniture designer Knoll.
It’s a dramatically different time for new office space to be opening in Charlotte compared with when the project was sidelined in 2008.
At that time, Charlotte was dealing with a shortage of available office space because of too few projects coming online following the recession. Today, multiple office towers are planned, under construction or have recently opened in center city.
“Tom Finke and Barings stepped into that vacuum with this project,” Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, a group that promotes uptown, said at Thursday’s dedication. “Other projects have joined in, and we are back on pace.”
Finke said inspiration for the wave-shaped building’s design was the image of two hands coming together and sliding. He said the development will be an icon for generations.
Building the tower next to Latta Arcade meant taking extra precautions. The arcade, a two-story, enclosed pedestrian walkway and storefronts on South Tryon Street, opened in 1915 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Darryl Dewberry, CEO of The Spectrum Cos., which developed 300 South Tryon, said sensors were used to make sure construction didn’t harm Latta. Steps to protect Latta cost more than $1 million, he said.
“What you don’t want to do is rattle those buildings,” he said. “You rattle those buildings at 100 years old, they fall apart.”
Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.