Charlotte lost a huge new HQ despite big incentives deal. Now we know what was offered

Charlotte may have offered millions more in taxpayer money than Nashville to land the new headquarters of AllianceBernstein, according to emails obtained by the Observer this week through a public records request.
Charlotte may have offered millions more in taxpayer money than Nashville to land the new headquarters of AllianceBernstein, according to emails obtained by the Observer this week through a public records request.

Local and state officials offered upwards of $30 million in incentives to help bring to Charlotte the new headquarters of AllianceBernstein, the New York investment firm. It wasn't good enough.

But for the first time, documents released to the Observer through a public records request show the scope of the efforts to land the firm, which ultimately chose to go to Nashville, Tennessee. At least at the state level, North Carolina's incentive offer was much more generous than Tennessee's.

The project would have brought over 1,000 new jobs to Charlotte over four years that pay an average annual wage of $200,000, roughly twice the amount that was originally reported.

The tax incentives offered by the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the state of North Carolina totaled between $29 million to $30 million, depending on where the firm opted to place its new local offices, according to the emails the Observer obtained this week.

The state portion alone would have been $27.1 million, which includes a Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) worth $25 million, as well as $2.1 million in workforce training incentives from the North Carolina Community College System.

That's much higher than the state amount offered in Nashville's deal. Last month, Tennessee's State Funding Board approved $17.5 million for AllianceBernstein in FastTrack Economic Development Grants, The Tennessean reported. The state also passed legislation this year that's meant to lower taxes for public financial firms.

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To be sure, the city of Nashville may have offered enough incentives to make its deal for AllianceBernstein sweeter than Charlotte's was.

But the city of Nashville hasn't disclosed what kind of incentives, if any, it offered. The Tennessean reported that Mayor David Briley was in talks with the company about incentives — despite the city’s budget shortfall of $34 million.

A representative from Nashville's Economic and Community Development program could not be reached.

AllianceBernstein would have made a capital investment of $54 million for the project, records show.

Nate Groover, a business recruitment manager for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, cited "Excessive Land/Building Costs" as a reason the project's status was changed to "Closed Lost," according to documents obtained through an earlier records request. "One of the reasons was due to the existing strength of the financial services industry in Charlotte and their ability to be a newer, bigger player in Nashville," Groover wrote.

In a May 1 conference call, commercial real estate expert Kim Moore, who consulted local officials on the project, explained why AllianceBernstein chose Nashville over Charlotte, according to a May 7 email from Kevin Dick, economic development director for the city of Charlotte.

Moore went over "what the state could do better with the flexibility of the JDIG process and improvements our regional team could make with regard to our cohesion," Dick wrote.

Moore directed questions to AllianceBernstein, which could not be reached Tuesday.

Dick would not say what Moore shared, but he told the Observer he thinks AllianceBernstein wanted to be in a city with a smaller financial services industry than Charlotte's.

"There are a lot of financial services companies in Charlotte, and not as many in Nashville. Maybe they thought they could have an even bigger imprint (in Nashville)," said Dick.

Records show that AllianceBernstein had narrowed its potential sites in Charlotte down to five: 300 S. Tryon (the building that houses the Kimpton Hotel), 201 S. College St. (the building that used to house Charlotte School of Law), Ballantyne Corporate Park, 239 Mallard Creek Church Road in University City and 5954 Carnegie Blvd. in SouthPark.

If AllianceBernstein selected either of the first two sites, which are within the city's "business investment zone," it would have gotten over $2.85 million in combined city and county incentives, according to a Feb. 9 email from Dick and Peter Zeiler, director of the Mecklenburg County office of Economic Development. If the firm selected any of the last three outside the zone, it would have gotten about $2.2 million.

Dick and Zeiler noted that the figures were preliminary offers, though the records don't show any higher figures.

Most of the roughly $27 million the state would have offered came from a JDIG, which is a performance-based program that provides cash grants to new or expanding businesses. A representative from the state Commerce Department could not be reached to comment.

This isn't the first time Charlotte has lost out on landing a major new business despite offering more in incentives.

That was the case in 2016, when real estate research firm CoStar Group chose Richmond instead of Charlotte, in part over the firm's opposition to the controversial House Bill 2.