Business

EpiCentre also will be quite a job center

EpiCentre is all about play – nightclubs, bars, a movie theater, a bowling alley – but developer Afshin Ghazi says it also should be appreciated as a workplace.

“We will create over 2,000 jobs with the openings coming over the next 12 months,” he said Thursday. “Each venue will open with an average of 120 employees.”

Ghazi was updating me on the project, still under construction, when he dropped that news. The number sounds huge considering that the Charlotte Chamber counted 14,648 new jobs announced during all of 2007.

“It doesn't surprise me at all that it's going to be 2,000,” said Tony Crumbley, the chamber's research vice president. “In 2007, accommodations and food service was twice as large as any other category with 4,436 new jobs announced.”

In the nation's second largest banking center, only 914 new finance and insurance jobs were announced during 2007, he said.

“As we become much more of a service society, this is what I would expect to see,” Crumbley said.

Said Ghazi: “Think about who is being hired: managers and junior managers, cooks and chefs, bartenders, security people, servers, cleaning crews – we are talking about a big service industry business.”

In addition to the $180 million, 310,00-square-foot entertainment complex at Trade and College streets, the development includes a hotel under construction and a stalled condo tower.

As Charlotteans begin to discover what's inside the completed portion of EpiCentre, Ghazi credits the city and county for making it possible.

He said he was able to complete time-consuming demolition and debris removal from the old convention center site and install sidewalks and other improvements with the help of a $6.5 million pledge from them.

Also, Ghazi believes, EpiCentre created a catalyst for more uptown development.

“What we had on that site was a big white ghost until the city and council got involved,” he said. “All those things that took place later – light rail, the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the arena, the Founders Hall makeover – weren't there when we started.”

The Ghazi Co. paid the city $14 million for the old convention center in December 2004 and began demolition in 2005.

The parking deck opened last December.

The initial tenants – a nightclub named Suite and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Whisky River bar and Pavilion bar – are drawing crowds as construction continues on several venues.

What else is coming?

Ghazi said Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar, is to open next week and Fleming's steakhouse and Jason's Deli in about 60 days. Aloft, a 175-room hotel, is to open in October with StrikeCity, an upscale bowling alley, and a movie theater.

Within 60 days, he said, all the buildings in the entertainment portion should be open with more tenants arriving through the remainder of the year.

Permitting delays and the complexity of coordinating so much work on the site, which also includes the 50-story 210 Trade condo tower, contributed to the lengthy two-year construction, he said.

Work has halted on the condos because of property rights issues, but Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties had indicated work could resume this month.

A problem arose after the city's code enforcement department discovered the project had been filed as a single-owner building on the EpiCentre site, when ownership actually will be shared by the owners of the condo tower, the office-entertainment complex and the hotel.

Flaherty & Collins' attorneys were to draw up a condo agreement to show how each entity will satisfy the city's code requirements.

EpiCentre is all about play – nightclubs, bars, a movie theater, a bowling alley – but developer Afshin Ghazi says it also should be appreciated as a workplace.

“We will create over 2,000 jobs with the openings coming over the next 12 months,” he said Thursday. “Each venue will open with an average of 120 employees.”

Ghazi was updating me on the project, still under construction, when he dropped that news. The number sounds huge considering that the Charlotte Chamber counted 14,648 new jobs announced during all of 2007.

“It doesn't surprise me at all that it's going to be 2,000,” said Tony Crumbley, the chamber's research vice president. “In 2007, accommodations and food service was twice as large as any other category with 4,436 new jobs announced.”

In the nation's second largest banking center, only 914 new finance and insurance jobs were announced during 2007, he said.

“As we become much more of a service society, this is what I would expect to see,” Crumbley said.

Said Ghazi: “Think about who is being hired: managers and junior managers, cooks and chefs, bartenders, security people, servers, cleaning crews – we are talking about a big service industry business.”

In addition to the $180 million, 310,00-square-foot entertainment complex at Trade and College streets, the development includes a hotel under construction and a stalled condo tower.

As Charlotteans begin to discover what's inside the completed portion of EpiCentre, Ghazi credits the city and county for making it possible.

He said he was able to complete time-consuming demolition and debris removal from the old convention center site and install sidewalks and other improvements with the help of a $6.5 million pledge from them.

Also, Ghazi believes, EpiCentre created a catalyst for more uptown development.

“What we had on that site was a big white ghost until the city and council got involved,” he said. “All those things that took place later – light rail, the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the arena, the Founders Hall makeover – weren't there when we started.”

The Ghazi Co. paid the city $14 million for the old convention center in December 2004 and began demolition in 2005.

The parking deck opened last December.

The initial tenants – a nightclub named Suite and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Whisky River bar and Pavilion bar – are drawing crowds as construction continues on several venues.

What else is coming?

Ghazi said Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar, is to open next week and Fleming's steakhouse and Jason's Deli in about 60 days. Aloft, a 175-room hotel, is to open in October with StrikeCity, an upscale bowling alley, and a movie theater.

Within 60 days, he said, all the buildings in the entertainment portion should be open with more tenants arriving through the remainder of the year.

Permitting delays and the complexity of coordinating so much work on the site, which also includes the 50-story 210 Trade condo tower, contributed to the lengthy two-year construction, he said.

Work has halted on the condos because of property rights issues, but Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties had indicated work could resume this month.

A problem arose after the city's code enforcement department discovered the project had been filed as a single-owner building on the EpiCentre site, when ownership actually will be shared by the owners of the condo tower, the office-entertainment complex and the hotel.

Flaherty & Collins' attorneys were to draw up a condo agreement to show how each entity will satisfy the city's code requirements.

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