Banking

Why are so many banks flocking to this section of uptown?

Cars parked at the old Goodyear store site at the corner of West Stonewall and South Tryon streets. On Sept. 20, 2017, Ally Financial said it will occupy more than half of a 26-story, 742,000 square-foot office tower to be built at the site.
Cars parked at the old Goodyear store site at the corner of West Stonewall and South Tryon streets. On Sept. 20, 2017, Ally Financial said it will occupy more than half of a 26-story, 742,000 square-foot office tower to be built at the site. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Stonewall Street and banking haven’t exactly been synonymous in Charlotte. But that’s quickly changing.

Along a two-block stretch between College and Church streets, Bank of America, Regions Financial and Ally Financial are expected to occupy large sections of new uptown towers built or in the works. Most recently, Ally disclosed plans this week to take up more than half of a skyscraper to be erected at Stonewall and Tryon streets.

The banks’ plans, all announced within roughly the past year, will concentrate hundreds of financial services workers just across Interstate 277 from booming South End. For Banktown, it’s meant the rapid development of a new financial corridor in a part of town that’s been a hotbed of construction activity, with more apartments and retail space going up.

UNC Charlotte finance professor Tony Plath described the Stonewall corridor as “the new southernmost boundary” of uptown’s financial district. Plath cited limited land availability in parts of uptown as a key factor for Stonewall’s attraction to banks looking for new space.

“There’s no really good place to build the sort of technology-enabled modern office space that the banks prefer until you get south of Stonewall on the other side of the Mint (Museum),” Plath said.

To be sure, banks have long dominated the skylines of other U.S. cities, not just Charlotte, where Bank of America’s headquarters towers over uptown on Tryon’s north side.

In addition, large financial services companies already have a big presence uptown not far from the Stonewall corridor.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, for example, has trading operations inside the Duke Energy Center at Stonewall and South Tryon. The next two blocks up Tryon, the bank occupies a cluster of large office towers.

Also on South Tryon, BBVA Compass has moved into part of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce building at Tryon and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Alabama-based company announced plans to occupy the space in 2014.

Ally, Bank of America and Regions have all said their new buildings will be used to consolidate local employees scattered throughout Charlotte.

Last year, Alabama-based Regions became the first bank to pioneer the Stonewall area. In September, the company said it would be a tenant at 615 South College, an office tower that opened this year adjacent to the Westin hotel.

Regions executive Terry Katon said Thursday the company’s location choice was driven in large part by the visibility the bank’s name will have on the 19-story building. The intent is for that sign to be seen by the many people living in South End, said Katon, head of capital markets for Regions.

Banks are being drawn to Stonewall simply because it’s where the recent wave of uptown office construction is taking place, Katon said, calling the area one of the “undeveloped frontiers” uptown. The north side of Tryon is also undeveloped, he said, but that area “is still not catching fire as much.”

Katon predicted that in about three years, as banks fill up the Stonewall towers, the “center of gravity” for uptown’s financial sector will shift further south along Tryon.

Having lots of bankers and other new workers on Stonewall is expected to increase economic activity in the area. UNCC economic geography professor Bill Graves predicts “huge economic benefits from having all these high-wage workers in one place,” with high-end housing among the winners.

Some others have mixed opinions.

Just across I-277, Morehead Tavern entertainment manager Greg Willingham said the influx of bankers to Stonewall should be great for the bar’s business, potentially increasing foot traffic.

But he worries about the ongoing impact that new development is presenting to Charlotte’s character, noting the Ally tower is going at the former site of a Goodyear auto shop.

“We’re going to welcome additional occupants of these buildings, but we kind of hate to see some of the more traditional businesses go away,” he said. “Seeing all the new structures going up is changing the look and feel of the area.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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