Westside benefits from uptown office crunch

The scarcity and rising expense of office space in the center city is helping boost commercial revitalization in a once-neglected area of Charlotte's westside.

The most recent example is the intersection of West Morehead Street and Wilkinson Boulevard, where American Investment Exchange plans to develop a three-story, 40,000-square-foot office building on a long dormant 1.6-acre parcel.

The location, with easy access to uptown, two interstate highways and Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, was a key consideration, said Alan Blom of Capital Real Estate Group, which is handling marketing and leasing.

Tenants will get free parking and pay less than they would for space in the center city, even though exact rates are to be determined, he said.

The average annual uptown rate was $25.44 a square foot in the first quarter, up 6.3 percent from a year earlier, according to Karnes Research Co.

With the center city vacancy rate below 2 percent, office space is in tight supply. And developers are rushing to get buildings on the market near the core before new towers are completed.

Blom said American Investment Exchange hopes to break ground soon on the estimated $9 million to $10 million project, named 2426 West Morehead, and finish in fall 2009.

The property had been owned by the E.C. Griffith Co., the developer of Wesley Heights and historically one of the largest land owners in the West Morehead area.

Charlotte natives might remember that the corner location once was home to the popular Plantation Grill.

Planners sometimes refer to the area as the city's new commercial and residential frontier, citing its on-going recovery from crime and decay.

Public and private cooperation helped seed a comeback that today includes a business park, a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a planned urban mixed-use development with offices, stores, homes and a law school.

On Wilkinson Boulevard near Remount Road, developers are renovating the 68-year-old Southern Dyestuff Corp. Building for offices.

And another developer has cleared the old Westwood Apartments for 545 single-family houses, row houses, condo flats and apartments on 36 acres between West Morehead and Berryhill Road.

The 2426 West Morehead developers will seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the core and shell of the building, which will take advantage of uptown skyline views with expansive glass windows.

Blom and Capital Real Estate Group ( associate Cameron Ferguson have begun marketing space, available in blocks of 2,000 square feet and larger.

So far, Blom said, several banks have expressed strong interest in opening branches there.

The building was designed by BB + M Architecture and will be built by J.F. Schultze Construction. Matrix Real Estate Services is handling project management.