With the current building boom all around us, it’s easy to forget just how dark things seemed in the recession’s aftermath.
In early 2011, when little was being built, the Observer ran a story about five big projects that were stalled as the economy limped along.
The projects were still mostly empty lots, such as the land around the former Charlotte Coliseum site, cleared but vacant as developers and lenders sat on the sidelines. That and the other projects, comprising hundreds of acres, were a sort of visual shorthand for how bad things were.
“Hangovers from better times,” the Observer called them.
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Now, less than five years later, the hangover has largely cleared up. Some of those projects have rebounded fully, with crews building feverishly. Others are still languishing, their futures unclear. And some are halfway back, scaled down from their original ambitions but still rising.
Here’s what’s going on with those sites today:
▪ Morningside Village: Revived, and a little less dense.
Charlotte’s apartment market is in the midst of a record boom, and the revived Morningside Village – now the Village at Commonwealth – is part of it.
The project was first announced in 2005, but by 2011 the land still sat empty. An old apartment complex at Morningside Drive and McClintock Road had been demolished, but that was about it.
Charlotte-based developer Northwood Ravin bought part of the property in 2013 for $7.5 million, after it went through foreclosure, and started construction on a new apartment complex. The first phase of the project, a 401-unit mix of low-rise apartments and townhouses, is set to open this fall.
“I wish we could say we had some brilliant revelation that turned this ugly duckling into a swan,” said Ben Yorker, Northwood Ravin’s vice president of development. “The recession washed out some really great projects ... This is simply a case where a pretty darn good piece of land with a pretty sound underlying premise got caught up in those times.”
Northwood Ravin will evaluate the site before figuring out what to build for its next phase of development.
“We feel very fortunate we were the ones who got to pick it up and dust it off,” he said. The site could accommodate up to 1,000 residences, but he said he doesn’t expect Northwood Ravin to build to that level of density. “We don’t think that’s necessary or appropriate.”
▪ Augustalee: Still vacant.
It was an ambitious plan from the start: A 104-acre site south of Cornelius would give birth to a $515 million mixed-use project of luxury residences, high-end retail, offices and hotels, bringing 4,600 jobs.
Years later, the site at Interstate 77 and Westmoreland Road still sits vacant. The initial plans fell through when no office tenants signed up. A new investor group, led by Robert Stevanovski, co-founder of Concord-based ACN, bought the land for about $7.4 million in 2012 after a lender foreclosed. Stevanovski said the group doesn’t have any plans for the site.
Andrew Grant, assistant town manager of Cornelius, said the town is working with the land’s owners on a report to justify funding for a new interchange between I-77 and Westmoreland Road. The road goes over I-77, and an interchange would spur development.
“We’re picking up where we left off with that report,” said Grant. “I know that we’ve had many conversations through the years with those new property owners and also discussions about what could come on that property. They’ve made some efforts to market that property.”
▪ City Park: Coming back to life, one piece at a time.
When the Charlotte Coliseum was imploded in 2007, a major new wave of development was supposed to follow. Atlanta-based Pope & Land bought the site for $30 million in debt and equity. They planned a $624 million, 170-acre community of homes, stores, restaurants and offices. But for years, the site known as City Park sat idle.
Development has picked back up now, although big tracts at the Tyvola Road site remain empty. Oxford Properties has built a 282-unit apartment complex, now open, and Mason Zimmerman, of Pope & Land, said the company will soon start a second apartment phase with more than 200 units.
Ryan Homes is building up to 200 townhouses on the site, and MJM Group is building a hotel, planned to be a 204-room, dual-branded Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites. A retail developer is under contract for a parcel at the entrance to the development, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said Pope & Land could build hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space on the vacant parts of the site, as well as more residential developments and retail. “It really depends on where the market leads,” he said.
“Of course, it took a long time,” Zimmerman said of the development. “But we’re encouraged it’s taking shape.”
▪ Riverwalk: On track as planned.
At over 1,000 acres on the banks of the Catawba River, Riverwalk, in Rock Hill, was one of the largest developments to get underway before the recession. And out of the five projects highlighted here, it’s arguably also the most successful, despite a slightly slower start than developers anticipated.
Construction crews are working full speed to bringing the 3 million square feet of industrial space, 600,000 square feet of office and retail, 750 single-family homes, 600 apartments and 150 townhouses planned for Riverwalk into reality.
“Riverwalk’s really shaping up to exactly what we envisioned,” said Dave Williams, managing director of the Assured Group, which is developing the site. He said several factors helped keep Riverwalk on track through the recession: a public-private partnership with Rock Hill, which allowed the company tax increment financing to build infrastructure, $15 million worth of investment in recreation facilities by the city and tax credits for rehabbing the former Celanese industrial site.
A velodrome for cycling competitions is open at the site, and 180 single-family homes have been sold. Homes are priced in the low $300,000s to low $500,000s, Williams said. That’s up from the $200,000s to $400,000s they were selling for in 2011.
Construction is underway on a 174-unit apartment project, with a second, 175-unit phase set to start this fall. The next phase of single-family homes will be 150 lots, delivered this fall.
Riverwalk is also building about 100,000 square feet of mixed-use space. Williams said a grocer is under contract.
▪ Cornerstone: Still waiting to launch.
Before the recession, Crosland LLC was planning to bring a high-end shopping center like Birkdale Village or Blakeney to the intersection of U.S. 521 and Jim Wilson Road, in South Carolina, south of Ballantyne. There was talk of as much as 1 million square feet.
“Then, the die was cast when the Great Recession came along,” said Mike Wiggins, formerly Crosland’s senior vice president of retail (he’s now a partner at Crosland Southeast). The plan wheezed along in a scaled-down design for a while, but never got built.
Lennar Corp. is in control of the site now. The company’s residential arm has built hundreds of single-family houses on Jim Wilson Road and is now building a 172-townhouse development, with models set to open this fall.
Lennar’s commercial arm is still marketing the Cornerstone site as a potential retail development. Real estate marketing fliers for development sites at the intersection, now called Cornerstone South and Promenade at Carolina Reserve, show 550,000 square feet of retail space could be built there. Nothing quite as distinctive as Birkdale Village is proposed, though.
“We’re marketing it for them, and working on putting a shopping center there now,” said Wes Thurmond, a broker for the Providence Group who is marketing both sites.