Demand for junior anchors spurs changes

The developers of Rhyne Station, a mixed-used project planned in northwest Charlotte, are tweaking the design to make it more attractive to potential retail tenants.

They started marketing it after planners approved a rezoning about 21/2 years ago. In the process they discovered retailers seemed to prefer something they didn't have: junior anchor space.

Now, said Larry Reed of Mount Holly Developers, they're going back to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department for site plan revisions that would permit those spaces among about 321,000 square feet of retail.

The development would cover roughly 71 acres at the southwest corner of Mount Holly Road and Interstate 485 and also include 88 townhomes, 28,000 square feet of offices, 70,000 square feet of auto dealerships and 100 hotel rooms.

Reed's Lockard Reed Development Group is a partner in Mount Holly Developers with David Gandy's Locomotive Land Co. Gandy, who owns Victory Chevrolet in Mount Holly, plans two dealerships within the project.

The site is visible from I-485 in an area where more residential growth is predicted. Crosland's nearby 800-acre Whitewater residential development, for example, would include about 2,800 homes.

Reed said the revisions will ensure that the developers are ready to go when the time is right, but with lending tight and homebuilding in a slump, “We are not in a big hurry.”

Edna Chirico of Sperry Van Ness/Chirico Huber Properties, who is marketing the project for the developers, believes the proposed site revisions could help get things started.

The new plan, she said, creates space for a pair of junior boxes and allows a single large box approved in the original plan to be divided into a group of junior boxes.

As national retailers curtail expansion plans, smaller spaces are more likely to lease than mega boxes, Chirico said.

Junior boxes usually total about 30,000 square feet or less and appeal to such tenants as electronics chains, pet super stores, apparel retailers, office suppliers and book stores.

And, Chirico said, those stores thrive off each other.

Commitments from at least three name retailers could attract others and enable site work to begin next year, she said. If that happens, the first stores could open in spring of 2010, Chirico said.

The stores would draw traffic to Rhyne Station and set the stage for the other components of the development to follow, she said.

“We have people interested in doing the townhomes as soon as we get the retailers interested,” Chirico said.

The developers are consulting with Casto, a firm that owns The Shoppes at University Place, but Chirico said it's undetermined whether it will become a venture partner.

Reed said construction of I-485 split a 131-acre tract the developers own, leaving acreage to be developed in a future phase on the other side of the interstate.

To facilitate access to Rhyne Station, Chirico said, the developers also are making extensive road improvements.

Changes include expanding a railroad crossing and adding a second turn lane onto Rhyne Road, a traffic light at Rhyne and Mount Holly roads and at the main entrance to the project and straightening Rhyne Road and adding turn lanes, sidewalks and landscaping. A second left turn lane also is planned on N.C. 27 near an existing Food Lion.

Planners have scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 15 on the proposed revisions.