Source: Sale of Charlotte Observer site is pending

One of the largest tracts of land available uptown is on the verge of changing hands, in a sale that could accelerate the transformation of South Tryon Street.

According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the owner of The Charlotte Observer’s uptown offices is close to striking a deal to sell the site.

The Charlotte Observer building and its parking lots occupy 9.4 acres of prime land adjacent to Interstate 277, the Carolina Panthers stadium and South Tryon Street. The property belongs not to the Observer but to The McClatchy Co.’s pension fund. McClatchy, the Observer’s parent company, transferred the Observer’s property and six other newspaper sites to its pension fund in 2011 to cover a $50 million obligation.

In recent years, the once-quiet stretch of South Tryon has been transformed with the addition of three museums, the Knight Theater and the Duke Energy Center.

Construction has returned in force since the recession, with thousands of new apartment units and three office towers either announced or underway uptown. And South Tryon Street has been one of the epicenters of building: A 27-story office building has been announced across Tryon Street from the Observer, along with a 42-story apartment tower a block away atop the Mint Museum. And developers broke ground in December on 300 South Tryon, a 25-story office building.

The Observer land could connect that stretch of South Tryon with South End, one of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods. Just south of the I-277 loop, a 14-story office tower is planned at Tryon and Morehead streets.

The potential for change with a site as large as the Observer’s is big. By comparison, 300 South Tryon will occupy 1.6 acres, while Romare Bearden Park occupies about 5 acres.

A sale of the Observer property could close early in the second quarter this year, the source said. Terms of the pending deal weren’t disclosed, and Mecklenburg County property records show the site hasn’t changed hands yet.

Jim Bishop, managing partner of WhiteStar Advisors in Boca Raton, Fla., oversees the South Tryon Street property on behalf of the pension fund.

Bishop wouldn’t comment on the pending sale, but he said a process to sell the building has been ongoing for some time. Bishop said developers have shown “quite a bit of interest” in the site.

“We reached out to about 10 of the development companies that are active in the Charlotte market and solicited applications,” Bishop said. “We then went through a winnowing process and chose the ones that seemed to be the most serious, and finally narrowed it down to one.”

Bishop said negotiations with the final candidate have been going on for about six weeks.

A sale of the building has been expected, as the Observer has been searching for a new home for several months now. Publisher Ann Caulkins has said she wants to keep the Observer in or near uptown, in a more modern facility with new technology and a “media center environment.” It’s unclear when the Observer would relocate.

Last February, the Observer transferred its printing operations from its building at Stonewall and Tryon streets to a printing press facility the company bought in University City.

The Observer has been published at the same site on South Tryon Street in two different facilities since 1927. The paper’s current 360,000-square-foot facility was built in 1971. The total tax value of all the parcels, which include the main building, parking lots and warehouse space, is $45.3 million.

Other McClatchy newspapers have sold or plan to sell their buildings, part of a nationwide trend of metro newspapers moving from mammoth accommodations to smaller, more modern buildings – a nod both to smaller staffs and much greater technology needs.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer said last month that it is seeking to sell its downtown building. In 2011, the Miami Herald sold its waterfront complex to Malaysian leisure and hospitality company the Genting Group for $236 million. WhiteStar Advisors sold the Bradenton, Fla., Herald’s former building and a 9-acre complex for about $3.3 million in April for McClatchy’s pension fund.

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