A new hotel tower atop the EpiCentre is taking shape

The unfinished hotel atop uptown’s EpiCentre entertainment complex was once a symbol of the city’s Great Recession hangover. But now the project is about a year away from opening – the latest symbol Charlotte’s building boom.

Workers with general contractor Cleveland Construction placed the highest steel beam in the structure on Thursday, capping off vertical building at the site. The 300-room hotel, topped with a rooftop bar and outdoor space overlooking uptown, is one of four hotels uptown set to open in little more than a year.

The site atop the EpiCentre was originally planned to be a 51-story condominium tower, before the economic crash in 2008 and ensuing recession. That project stalled, and for years the steel rebar poking out of the entertainment complex’s roof was a visible mark of the recession’s impact.

Instead, hotel operator McKibbon Hospitality partnered with Vision Ventures to develop the new hotel. Work started on the 20-story tower in January, with completion planned for early 2018. Erik Rowen, vice president of development at McKibbon Hospitality, said construction is on schedule and portions of the hotel could open sooner, potentially in late 2017.

The dual-branded hotel will include a 116-room Residence Inn and a 184-room AC Hotel by Marriott. The tower will feature a rooftop level with an independently operated restaurant and an ultra-luxe, two-bedroom “super suite” that can be rented on a long-term basis.

The AC Hotel is a “European-style boutique” brand, with a custom-designed lobby and other public spaces meant to appeal to travelers with a “millennial mindset.” McKibbon is also developing an AC Hotel in Asheville, set to open in the first quarter of 2017. The Residence Inn is a more standard “extended-stay comfort” option for travelers. The AC Hotel will include about 5,000 square feet of retail space on the fifth floor. Rowen said the company is still talking with potential tenants.

All together, about 1,000 new hotel rooms are set to hit the uptown market in the next year or so, including hotels under construction by Kimpton, Springhill Suites and Embassy Suites.

“We’re seeing that in a lot of our markets,” Rowen said. He said the prime location of the new hotel – on top of the busy EpiCentre and next to the Blue Line light rail – will ensure it rides out any oversupply. “We focus on long-term holds and the best locations.”

Building on what was meant to be a condo tower has posed some challenges but also provided opportunities. The remnants of the condo structure, mostly a two-story entrance lobby on the fifth level, have been preserved and turned into the entrance for the AC Hotel. And the massive base from the EpiCentre’s original tower crane, a concrete block laid 12 feet below the ground, was reused for the tower crane now building the hotels.

“The Cleveland Construction family is excited to reach the topping out milestone,” said Cleveland vice president David Sawicki.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo