EpiCentre sold to California real estate group for $130.5 million

The EpiCentre entertainment complex in uptown Charlotte has been sold to a California-based real estate group for $130.5 million.

CIM Group, a Los Angeles firm that also owns the BB&T Center office tower at 200 S. College St., issued a statement to the Observer Tuesday saying that it “is pleased to acquire this property and continue investing in Charlotte.”

The deed was filed on Monday passing the property to CIM Group from its former owners, Charlotte-based Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management.

Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management, working through an affiliate group called Blue Air 2010 LLC, bought the complex’s $94 million construction loan in 2010. They did so after the original developer, Afshin Ghazi, lost control of the complex during a foreclosure.

Ghazi eventually signed over most of the EpiCentre, and a federal judge in 2012 ordered him to sign documents giving up all his remaining ownership.

After gaining control of the EpiCentre, Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management embarked on an extensive renovation effort aimed partly at moving the complex beyond its reputation as a nightspot and drawing a more diverse clientele, including families.

In recent months, the ownership group announced a variety of new tenants, including Studio Movie Grill, Hibachi Grill, an Italian restaurant called La Tagliatella and a music spot, Tin Roof.

A marketing summary of the property distributed by commercial real estate brokerage firm HFF said $23 million had been invested in the five-building complex in the past two years. It said the complex was 94 percent leased, and that 70 percent of its rental revenue comes from its 16 restaurants.

The brokers suggested there is “significant potential” for buyers to enhance revenue with digital signage, naming rights and “parking revenue enhancement,” among other things.

Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management have a track record of buying distressed properties and renovating them.

They paid $26.1 million for the Ballantyne Village mixed-use complex last year after it teetered on the brink of foreclosure. Before the recession, it had appraised at $71 million.

Andrew Jenkins, a real estate analyst with Karnes Research, said it appeared Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management had succeeded in turning the EpiCentre’s fortunes around.

“To convince someone less than two years (after buying the EpiCentre) that what was once a distressed asset is now a valuable asset speaks pretty strongly to what they’ve achieved,” he said.

Officials with Mount Vernon Asset Management and Vision Ventures declined comment.

It wasn’t immediately clear what effect the sale will have on the tenant mix at the complex. CIM Group’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions on that subject.

It is also unclear whether the new owners will try to develop high-rise condos above the complex. Such plans were abandoned during the economic downturn, leaving unfinished structural columns sticking out of the complex’s roof.

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