As Charlotte’s record-breaking real estate boom rolls on, it seems there’s construction on every corner – which makes empty lots in the middle of hot patches of real estate stick out all the more.
The real estate business is largely about timing, and if you watch it for any length of time, you get used to delays in projects, even in boom times. Construction start dates slip from one quarter to the next, and completion dates tick further away into the future as everything from labor shortages to the weather conspire to push timelines back.
Amid the growth, here are the stories behind four of the most prominent lots in Charlotte that haven’t been developed – and the prospects for their future:
1. East Boulevard: Christmas trees and pumpkins
Longtime Charlotteans will remember the 1.1-acre patch at the corner of East Boulevard and Scott Avenue in Dilworth as the home of the Epicurean, for decades one of Charlotte’s original fine dining establishments. The restaurant closed in the late 1990s. George Castanas, son of the restaurant’s founder and head of the family company that owns the lot, planned to build a 30,000 square foot building with a new Epicurean restaurant, additional stores and office space.
But by 2000, Castanas said the project was “kind of in limbo,” according to Observer archives, leaving the site empty once the old Epicurean was demolished. Ten years later, Castanas told Charlotte City Council that the plans fell through because they couldn’t get financing.
“We had those plans all the way up to the permit stage, and we could not get a loan, and that’s why we had to shelve the project,” Castanas said during a rezoning hearing.
In the intervening years, the vacant lot has been used for seasonal Christmas tree and pumpkin sales, and not much else. In a neighborhood plagued with parking woes, where businesses up and down East Boulevard have plastered towing signs and racked up a reputation for following through, Castanas sought to rezone the land so it could be used as a temporary parking lot with 85 spaces until the property was redeveloped.
But the Dilworth Community Development Association opposed the rezoning, which was inconsistent with plans to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
“This land has been vacant for 12 years during the largest real estate boom in the past century,” Wes Kenney, then president of the DCDA, told City Council during a 2010 hearing on the rezoning. “Approving this petition would send a terrible message to the community that surface parking lots are a desirable amenity in our community.”
Then-council member Andy Dulin said using the land for something would be better than leaving it empty most of the time, even if it was just parking.
“I would rather see activity over there than a dust bowl,” said Dulin. But he was the only council member to vote for the plan, which went down 10-1 when the votes were cast.
Since then, no other plans to redevelop the site have emerged. In May, a weekly food truck rally kicked off on the lot. A representative of the food truck group said the Castanas family organized the event and doesn’t have any pending plans, but didn’t respond to further questions.
George Castanas couldn’t be reached. In the meantime, parking is still an issue in Dilworth. Earlier this year, the Kenilworth Commons shopping center tore down a house on East Boulevard for which they paid $790,000.
The shopping center’s owners built several dozen more parking spaces for the Harris Teeter and other businesses, directly on East Boulevard, just a block away from the Castanas property that wasn’t allowed to become a parking lot.
2. Wilkinson Boulevard: Former Radiator Specialty site
Across from the former Charlotte School of Law building (now Mecklenburg County offices) a long expanse of regularly mowed grass stretches along Suttle Avenue at Wilkinson Boulevard. The city’s skyline looms overhead, while the Bryant Park subdivision, with hundreds of houses, and new apartment buildings have sprung up blocks away as the area just west of uptown flourishes.
The empty site is part of the former Radiator Specialty Co. property, which was demolished before the recession to make way for a $250 million mixed-use development that called for about 1 million square feet of buildings and up to 2,000 residences.
That plan didn’t come together, and the land has sat vacant since, with street signs pointing to nonexistent roads. But it likely won’t be vacant for much longer: In April, Phoenix-based Alliance Residential won a rezoning that will allow up to 350 apartments on the 10-acre site.
Alliance plans to break ground in the fourth quarter this year.
“The West End is really hitting its stride, with great restaurants, interesting office and retail, and a unique character we want to embrace,” said Donald Santos, head of Alliance Residential’s Charlotte office, in a previous statement. “Our goal is to reposition this former office park site into a cool residential project for the community and the city.”
3. South End: Scaleybark Station
South End’s boom along the Blue Line light rail has transformed the area, adding thousands of new apartments, breweries, cideries, distilleries and new restaurants. But at the Scaleybark Station, a long-planned development remains mostly idle.
Scaleybark Partners, led by Pappas Properties with partner firm Cherokee was selected by the city of Charlotte in 2007 to develop the 18-acre site with hundreds of apartments, new office buildings, shops, restaurants, a hotel and additional retail space. But as at the Radiator Specialty Co. on Wilkinson Boulevard, the recession and difficulty securing federal tax credits to subsidize some of the housing on the site stalled those plans, leaving a tranquil expanse of grass in their place.
Now, a decade later, the first stirrings on South Boulevard just south of Clanton Road are visible. In December, Pulte Homes paid $4.2 million to buy 2.7 acres, where 58 townhouses are now under construction.
Pappas Properties said in December that it planned to start construction soon on the first commercial part of the development, 16,000 square feet of retail space fronting South Boulevard in front of the townhouses. The company said it had letters of intent from two restaurants for the site.
Executives at Pappas Properties didn’t respond to questions about the status of the project. Less than a half-mile away, more than 1,000 new apartments, the redevelopment of the former Pepsi Bottling and Sedgefield Shopping Center sites and the new Lidl grocery store are all under construction.
4. South Tryon: Former Goodyear site
Stonewall Street is the single busiest stretch of new development in Charlotte, with a new Whole Foods, at least three office towers, more than 1,000 apartments and other mixed-use projects.
But at the corner of Stonewall and South Tryon streets, the site of a former Goodyear auto shop and a surface parking lot still sits mostly undisturbed. Crescent Communities is planning a new, mixed-use project on the site to be called Tryon Place. It would include apartments, a hotel, shops and restaurants, all dominated by a new office tower.
Across the street, Bank of America’s new, 33-story office tower is under construction on the former site of the Charlotte Observer, while a block away, Portman Holdings’ new 18-story office tower next to the Westin hotel opened in May. But Tryon Place, first announced in 2014, has yet to materialize.
Crescent has announced several planned start dates since the Goodyear closed in 2014. Originally, construction was to begin in 2015, with the building finished this year. That slipped to a plan to start construction in January 2017, with the building completed in 2019. So far, though, the site remains occupied by parking.
Crescent spokeswoman Connie Bryant Breedlove said this week that the company still plans to start work this year, and is talking with possible tenants for the planned office tower.
“We are in the midst of our pre-leasing campaign with good traction,” she said. “Our goal remains to start construction on the tower this year.”