Amid all the development in uptown Charlotte, Latta Arcade is one of the oldest buildings that remains relatively unchanged, and its assortment of local shops makes it a bustling destination for office workers and visitors on any given weekday.
But tenants have recently complained about the 102-year-old building’s physical condition, and they want the landlord to take more steps to address issues such as broken heating-and-cooling systems.
Latta Arcade, the two-story, enclosed pedestrian walkway and storefronts on South Tryon Street, opened in 1915. Created by early Charlotte developer Edward Dilworth Latta, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and has kept its small-scale feel even as bigger buildings rise all around. Next door, a few feet from the back door of the shops, a 17-story hotel and 25-story office tower are on track for completion later this year.
Northwood Investors, a global real estate firm, bought Latta Arcade in 2011 for just over $2.7 million. Brevard Court, the open-air collection of two-story shops that sits adjacent to Latta Arcade and opens onto Church Street, has separate owners. Northwood has become a much more active real estate player in Charlotte, culminating with the firm’s $1.2 billion purchase of Ballantyne Corporate Park earlier this year.
Merchants at Latta Arcade have complained of uninsulated exterior doors and walls they say make their shops freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, as well as problems with mold, falling ceiling tiles and the rat’s nest of electrical wiring tacked on to the building’s backside, which they complain is old and unsightly.
Although most of the tenants have leases which state they’re responsible for maintenance inside their shop, they worry that the building isn’t being kept up.
And they contend that some of the major repairs needed, such as new HVAC systems in many of the shops, are prohibitively expensive for small businesses trying to eke out a tight profit margin. And while Latta Arcade is still bustling – it’s a popular lunch and shopping destination for tens of thousands of office workers within a few blocks – some of the merchants there say they’ve had to resort to homemade insulation, standup fans and other cheap fixes to try to keep their shops habitable.
‘I’m just a barber’
Cecil Taylor is the long-time owner of the Arcade Men’s Room barber shop, where he has cut hair for more than four decades. He said he understands the challenges of maintenance in an old building, but that he can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to replace his shop’s ailing air conditioning. Most of the shops have their own individual units.
He believes it’s unfair that tenants have to shoulder the full cost of replacing extensive building systems that they can’t take with them once they move.
“It’s a fixed asset, but I’m going to have to pay for it,” Taylor said. “I’m just a barber.”
Whatever happens, he doesn’t want the building to lose its charm.
“I like the place. I’ve got customers 90 years old,” said Taylor. “The reason they come is it’s old-school.”
Jonathan Stewart, who handles leasing at Latta Arcade for Northwood, could not be reached.
“Latta Arcade ... has an open-door policy and retailers are welcome to voice their concerns with us directly,” a Northwood Investors spokesperson said in an emailed statement to the Observer.
Down the row of shops at Persis Biryani Indian Grill, the air conditioner goes out every 15-20 days, according to employee Ravi Madugula. One day recently, the air conditioning systems were down for all the other businesses on the north side of Latta’s ground floor, Madugula said.
“The guy took a long time to come to fix it,” he added. The reason he was given: Lack of parking near Latta.
The air conditioning problems haven’t hurt business, though the malfunctioning HVAC system often makes conditions uncomfortable for employees working in the back, Madugula said.
“You feel like you just don’t matter,” said Berhan Nedioglu, who runs Berhan’s Gifts and Jewelry. The Florida native started her store after she moved to Charlotte, and rented her first shop space at Latta Arcade more than 25 years ago. She relocated her shop several times in the years since. When she came back to Latta Arcade last year, she said she was disappointed in the building’s condition, but couldn’t find any other affordable space uptown with the convenience and access to foot traffic.
Now, she’s struggling with an air conditioning system that doesn’t work and a back door that she said floods every time it rains. The HVAC system will cost $5,000 or more to replace, she said, and though she understands that it’s her responsibility under the lease to maintain the inside of the shop, her business can’t support that expense.
“On my back door right now, I have all this plastic,” she said Friday. “The rain and the water’s coming from outside.”
Not all tenants are troubled.
Uptown Cool, a smoothie bar that opened about eight weeks ago, is a spin-off from its popular salad-slinging neighbor, Crisp. Co-founder Mo Wineman said so far, the shop hasn’t had any serious problems, though she’s heard many of her neighbors complaining about their air conditioners. She said she loves the charm and history of the building, and hopes to stay for a long time.
“It’s an old building,” Wineman said. “It comes with issues.”