February 21, 2014

Parking dispute riles tenants at Ballantyne Village

The new owners of Ballantyne Village have said they’re working to improve the once financially-troubled property, but a dispute over parking with the former owner is hurting business, tenants said Friday.

The new owners of Ballantyne Village have said they’re working to improve the once financially-troubled property, but a dispute over parking with the former owner is hurting business, tenants said Friday.

When new investors bought the property in October after the lender foreclosed, the previous owner retained three parcels – two parking lots and a three-story parking deck connected to shops and restaurants via a pedestrian bridge.

The former owner and original developer, Bob Bruner, said he has closed the lots while he explores developing them into new commercial properties. The current owners of the center, an investment group led by Vision Ventures, declined to comment, but confirmed some spaces are closed to shoppers.

Four tenants told the Observer the problem has left much of the parking at Ballantyne Village fenced off for months at a time. That has led to congestion, confusion and missed sales, they said.

Paul McConachy, co-owner of Rush Espresso, said the periodic closures of the deck have hurt business. Customers have come by in the morning and told him they had wanted to visit his shop for lunch, but were unable to get a parking spot, McConachy said.

“The erection of the fences is having a direct financial impact on the business,” McConachy said. He said he is confident that the current owners will resolve the problem.

“It’s a challenge,” said Mark Boley, general manager of Outland Cigars. His store is next to one of the parking lots that had chain link fencing stretched in front of it Friday. “There are certain periods during the day when it’s worse than others. Lunchtime is very challenging.”

One tenant with a second-floor business, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid straining relations with his current landlord, put the effect of the parking restrictions bluntly: “It’s killing us.”

Problems started last year

Ballantyne Village, off Johnston Road, is one of Charlotte’s most recognizable shopping centers, a mixed-use complex of restaurants, shops, offices and a movie theater capped with a glowing, multi-colored crown.

Several tenants said the parking problem started last spring, after lender Bank of America listed the buildings for sale, and intensified after the new owners bought the buildings. That’s around the time tenants first saw fences go up across the entrances to the two parking lots, totaling more than 60 spaces, and the three-story parking deck Bruner still owns.

Bruner said he’s trying to build a hotel, residential property or medical offices on the site. He said the current tenants are not entitled to park on his property.

“The fencing is necessary to designate the parking areas where the tenants, employees and customers of the retail portion may and may not park,” he wrote in an email to the Observer. “Although this is not ideal for the tenants and patrons of the shopping center, the current owners were aware of the parking limitations. ... Vision Ventures knew exactly what they were buying. They knew there were parking issues due to the fractured ownership.”

Two tenants told the Observer that the former owner had threatened to jackhammer the pavement in front of the parking lots to prevent anyone from using them. They pointed to orange spray paint lines on the asphalt, where they said Bruner had marked the ground in preparation.

They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to sour business relationships. One said he feared being sued by Bruner, who denied he intended to jackhammer anything.

“There is nothing to the jackhammer rumors,” he wrote.

Two tenants told the Observer that they had been told by Ballantyne Village’s new owners that they were trying to acquire or lease the parking deck and lots. But Bruner said “there is no dispute.”

“The owners of the retail property have indicated they are satisfied with the parking,” Bruner wrote.

“(Vision Ventures) had the opportunity to buy my property and put the pieces back together, but they have chosen not to,” he wrote.

Adam Bernstein, a spokesman for Vision Ventures, said he could not comment on the parking issue or Bruner’s statements.

“There are more than 600 spaces currently available at Ballantyne Village. That figure is in addition to the areas that the parking deck owner has cordoned off,” Bernstein said in a statement. “In short, there is ample parking for anyone planning to visit our property this weekend and after.”

One tenant said their lease entitled them to use the parking spaces. Bruner said his company, Ballantyne Village Parking LLC, has no leases with any of the tenants.

On Friday, two surface parking lots were closed with chain link fences. Other fences had been moved in the parking decks, opening the upper levels to customers. The fences were piled nearby on the pavement. A tenant told the Observer that Bruner comes back regularly to put up fences that have been moved aside by tenants or shoppers.

Ballantyne Village was completed in 2006 and appraised at $71 million. However, the recession upended the developer’s plans and Bank of America eventually foreclosed on the original $50 million loan.

Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management purchased Ballantyne Village in October for $26.1 million. The groups specialize in buying and overhauling distressed properties.

The same investors also bought the EpiCentre complex uptown, which they recently put up for sale, and the troubled Rosewood Condominiums at Providence and Sharon Amity roads.

But the group’s purchase of Ballantyne Village included only the retail buildings, the movie theater and the adjoining surface parking spaces. The parking deck and Bruner’s other two lots have a total tax value of $2 million, property records show.

It’s not clear how the issue might be resolved. “As long as the ownership remains fractured their parking will be extremely limited,” Bruner wrote.

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