The remake of perimeter woods

When the big gorilla plops down in your neighborhood, it's time to re-evaluate.

That's what the owners of Perimeter Woods did when they realized that 1.1-million-square-foot Northlake Mall would be their across-the-street neighbor.

They were sitting on 68 acres that could be developed around an existing 350,000-square-foot office-warehouse park at Interstate 77's Exit 18.

But with big retail coming and much more residential development anticipated, they shifted gears, got a rezoning and launched a mixed-use project to serve homeowners and office users.

Last week, they unveiled the Linville, a 125,000-square-foot Class A office building, the first of three planned in a 450,000-square-foot, self-contained portion of Perimeter Woods.

In an adjoining section of the park, Lowe's and Best Buy have opened in a 310,000-square-foot shopping center. Next to it, Wood Partners has started site preparation for a 200-unit apartment complex.

Mimis Cafe, a California chain that features home-cooked meals all day, plans to open in August in a retail building near the offices. Mimis is owned by Bob Evans Farms.

Perimeter Woods Investors, whose members are Collett & Associates, Core Properties and Trinity Capital, acquired the 17-year-old business park in 2003 with the understanding that Trinity would provide the office expertise and the other partners would bring the retail knowledge.

They applied for a rezoning in 2004, about a year before Northlake Mall opened.

As the plan evolved, they decided to put office, retail and residential components within walking distance of each other in a mixed-use project without actually squeezing them together.

Office workers can shop and dine without getting entangled in retail center traffic, said Perimeter Woods leasing agent Charles Jonas III of Trinity Partners, a Trinity Capital affiliate.

And, he said, putting offices in a landscaped section with its own identity – Perimeter Woods Office Park – presents a more professional image.

The additions make Perimeter Woods a potential Next Big Thing in north Mecklenburg, but it isn't the first older generation park to redefine itself.

Last year, Huntersville Business Park changed its name to The Park-Huntersville and disclosed plans for a mix of uses including medical facilities, shops, services, restaurants, office condos, a hotel and apartments.

And back in 2000, the developers of the Cambridge Beltway Park office buildings anticipated the changes ahead for the Interstate 485-South Tryon Street interchange and rezoned 180-acres around them for the Ayrsley mixed-use development.

At Perimeter Woods, real estate experts say, the arrival of the mall and construction of a new road network around it made the property too valuable for just a distribution operation.

“The irony is it really is a good location for distribution,” said real estate analyst Andrew Jenkins of Karnes Research Co.

From 2000 to 2005, when Northlake opened, the 4,400-acre area around the mall grew 27.4 percent to nearly 5,000 people.

Commercial and residential development continues as the City Council prepares to consider adoption of the Northlake Area Plan later this month to guide development in the area.

For Perimeter Woods and other business parks, the trend toward combining uses is taking on new importance as gasoline prices soar.

Trinity Partners' Peter Conway believes commuting costs will figure into the park's future as consumers and office workers take advantage of the improved access that I-485 construction will bring.

A six-lane section is to extend I-485 by mid-September from N.C. 16 to a major interchange at I-77 and N.C. 115.

Conway said the opening will give Northlake-area employers and retailers greater access to the labor force and consumer base in Gaston County.

The new link also will allow motorists to almost circle Charlotte completely – except for a stretch in northeast Mecklenburg between I-77 and I-85 that likely won't be finished before 2018.

Easy access to I-77 also could make Perimeter Woods attractive to office workers seeking to shorten commutes from north Mecklenburg, Conway said. The park is about 6.5 miles from uptown, 10 miles from the airport and a mile from I-485.

The first office building was built on speculation in the $150 million initial phase of the new Perimeter Woods development, which includes the retail and residential projects.

Conway said the owners plan a 125,000-square-foot companion building to the Linville and a 200,000-square-foot building in an estimated $70 million later phase.

Construction will start depending on market demand and how quickly the first building fills, Conway said. Trinity is quoting an annual lease rate of $21.50 a square foot.

The average annual rental rate in the north Mecklenburg office market that includes Perimeter Woods was $19.82 a square foot in the first quarter, according to Karnes Research Co.

Four office-warehouse buildings in the original park, where lease rates range from $10 to $11 a square foot annually, are fully occupied, Conway said.

No leases have been signed for the new office building; but, he said, “We have a lot of lines in the water” following a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended last week by 95 real estate brokers.