If you moved to Charlotte in 2009 or after, as I did, you probably assumed the Metropolitan was always there, just outside of uptown. Not so: I dropped in on a real estate forum this week in which the developers detailed the long, arduous and surprisingly recent birth of one of the area’s most prominent mixed-use developments.
The Metropolitan didn’t open until 2008, making it only seven years old. Before that, the old Charlottetown Mall sat on the site. Little Sugar Creek was capped with concrete and ran underground – no greenway. Now, the area has been so completely transformed in such a a short time that it feels like the Metropolitan was always there.
Here are some things you might not know – or remember – about the Metropolitan that I heard about at the Urban Land Institute forum this week:
▪ Ever wonder why that suburban-style Wendy’s remains in a dense, urban mixed-use development? It took developer Peter Pappas years to acquire the land for the Metropolitan, which had been owned by the Episcopal Diocese. He first started looking at the property in 1999. But Wendy’s never agreed to sell its plot, and in the end, the developers had to work around the restaurant with a drive-thru.
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“We never could get Wendy’s to sell,” Pappas said Tuesday, speaking at the forum at restaurant La Paz.
“I don’t know how many meetings we had on that,” said Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who helped shepherd the project through the city approvals.
▪ The Metropolitan was built as a public-private partnership, with some public money. The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County put millions into infrastructure improvements and tax increment grants to help get the project off the ground. The city spent $8.9 million on infrastructure, such as streets, and the county put in $2 million. The county also spent $11.7 million uncapping Little Sugar Creek – which was hidden under concrete – and extending the greenway from Charlottetown to Morehead Street.
Under the tax increment grant, the city agreed to refund part of the property taxes as a grant once the project was finished. That guaranteed income stream helped Pappas get financing.
“All in, we have about $34 million in public dollars, city and county, pledged to this development,” said Kimble.
▪ The timing for the project’s debut wasn’t great. After almost a decade spent acquiring land, negotiating with the city and county, refining plans and financing the project, the Metropolitan finally opened in 2008. There was a little recession going on at the time, you might recall. Home Depot closed all of its Expo Design Centers – one of the Metropolitan’s crucial early anchors – in 2009.
Then, out of the more than 70 condos that buyers had put under contract, only 36 closed, Pappas said. “We had to sell our way back up,” said Pappas. At one point, he considered shutting down the sales and marketing efforts until the economy recovered. “I’m about to kick a car in if someone will buy one,” Pappas said, describing his thoughts at the time.
But the sales teams stayed “on the field,” as Pappas said, and finally finished selling the condos about three years later. “That was a tough hand,” said Pappas.
It’s taken longer to back-fill the Home Depot Expo space. BJ’s is planning to open a store in the former space before Thanksgiving.