One of the most coveted half-blocks in uptown Charlotte has been sold. United Way of Central Carolinas has agreed to part ways with the headquarters it has occupied since 1969 for $10.5 million.
United Way sold the site at the corner of Third and Brevard streets on Tuesday to SLT Commercial Properties, LLC. The deal includes a three-year lease for United Way to remain in the building until it finds a new home.
“We’re evaluating multiple strong options already,” said United Way spokesman Bo Hussey. “The ability to lease back our current space, at very favorable rates, allows us to carefully plan a future home that’s an inviting center for community participation...it could include staying at this location.”
SLT is affiliated with Linden Thomas and Company, a wealth management firm based in uptown that was founded by Stephen Thomas.
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Thomas has previously bought commercial properties, including in uptown, South End and Elizabeth. He said he plans to renovate the United Way building and move his offices, which are on North Tryon Street, to the spot.
“We have a company that’s grown and we’ve outgrown our building,” said Thomas. “We’ve been searching for a new home for quite some time.”
Agency officials said SLT was one of several entities to come up with “very strong offers” on the property in recent months. The site is within a five-minute walk of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Charlotte Convention Center, the Spectrum Center and the Epicentre entertainment complex. It is also surrounded by multiple hotels.
The sale of the building comes when much of uptown’s south side is either for sale or is spoken for in the race to bring redevelopment to what was once the least desirable part of Center City.
One of the largest of the proposed projects is a block and a half east of United Way. The county intends to sell 17 acres that include the old Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools headquarters and Marshall Park. BK Partners plans $683 million worth of new development on the site, including 1,070 new apartments, 178 condominiums, two hotels, and 680,000 square feet of office space, along with shops and restaurants.
A few blocks away, more than $2 billion worth of development is underway on what used to be a largely deserted stretch of Stonewall Street. Developers are building new apartment towers, two new hotels, two office towers and a Whole Foods, with more expected to follow. Adjacent to the United Way building, an Embassy Suites hotel with 250 rooms opened this year.
An historic site
Charlotte’s United Way is the largest United Way branch in the Carolinas, with a staff of 52 and an annual budget of $7.3 million. It dispenses more than $16 million annually to 78 member charities, as well as providing money for larger community programs to help the poor achieve greater economic mobility.
Some of the money may be used as “step-down funding” for member charities that no longer fit United Way’s new approach of tackling broad community problems.
The majority of the sale proceeds for the site will be invested, officials said, allowing the returns to offset the cost of renting the site from SLT as well as supplying the capital needed for a future home.
“It’s too early to know the cost of our next home, but it will be a fiscally responsible move that increases community engagement,” said Hussey. “Also, we must be prepared for a potential natural disaster, emergency situation, or economic downturn in our community.”
The United Way site has historic significance.
One corner of the lot is home to an old gym that was originally part of one of the South’s first African-American YMCAs, opened in 1936. United Way uses the old gym for storage space. Historians have suggested the gym is worth saving, as part of the city’s African-American heritage. However, the building has asbestos in it, which experts say would be costly to remove.
A placard in the ground at the corner of Third and Brevard streets states the site was also home to the Carnegie Library branch for African-Americans: “Here stood the first public library in North Carolina for blacks opened in 1905. It served Charlotte’s black community for 56 years. Funds for the library came from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and Charlotte’s black community, led by businessman Thad Tate.”
United Way’s history at the site began in 1969, when it was known as United Community Services. The site was paid for with money from a community campaign that also supplied money for a Boy Scouts Service Center and three YMCA projects.
Among the reasons United Way wanted to sell: The site was too big for the agency’s staff and the cost of upkeep was rising. The auditorium is considered unsafe because of environmental issues and flooding. And United Way spent $47,000 last year alone for elevator repairs to keep the main building compliant with federal laws, officials said.