Is a major private investor eyeing a Ballantyne buyout?

An aerial shot of Ballantyne Corporate Park and the surrounding areas.
An aerial shot of Ballantyne Corporate Park and the surrounding areas.

For weeks, it’s been the biggest rumor in Charlotte real estate circles: That Bissell Cos. is nearing a deal to sell the entire Ballantyne Corporate Park that it developed and owns to a New York-based real estate investment company.

Real estate brokers and development executives have been circulating rumors that the buyer will be Northwood Investors, a private real estate investment firm with more than $6 billion worth of assets under management.

Corporate records hint in that direction: Dozens of new corporate entities were registered with the state in November, each named for a Ballantyne property and affiliated with Northwood’s Denver office. For example, NW Brixham Green Two corresponds to the Brixham Green Two building in Ballantyne Corporate Park, NW Brigham Building corresponds to the newly opened Brigham Building, and so forth.

Erwin Aulis, Northwood’s chief operating officer, signed off on each, state incorporation records show. The company is affiliated with Charlotte-based Northwood Ravin, a company that owns and develops upscale apartment buildings, including The Vue uptown.

Such a sale would likely be the biggest real estate transaction in the city’s history, covering some 4.5 million square feet of office space, four hotels and a golf course developed by Bissell in the 535-acre corporate park.

Bissell has been tight-lipped about its future since last year, when the company confirmed it was looking at strategic alternatives. The company declined to comment for this story, and Aulis couldn’t immediately be reached.

It’s still not certain when or if any transaction will actually occur, but it’s being talked about in the real estate community.

At a 2017 real estate forecast event last week, Quentin Fogan, a director at Bank of America, came the closest to a public discussion of the deal, when he mentioned “Northwood buying a large portfolio” as evidence of the Charlotte market’s strength.

In September, Bissell president and CEO Ned Curran said the company is looking at a range of options for the future of the company.

“Like any organization, we engage in mid- to long-term strategic planning. In that regard, we are exploring a wide range of strategic options for the future, which could involve joint ventures for residential or retail development as well as expanding ownership within the corporate park beyond the Bissell family,” said Curran, in a statement.

Ballantyne was carved from undeveloped land that had been Harris family land used for pastures, hunting and fields in south Charlotte. The plans for Ballantyne were first announced in 1991, and Bissell broke ground on the first building in Ballantyne Corporate Park in 1996. In the ensuing 25 years, the greenfield site has become one of the largest office parks in the Carolinas.

Beyond the corporate park, new homes and commercial developments have also sprung up to form the bustling Ballantyne area.

Smoky Bissell, chairman of the Bissell organization, founded the company in 1964. Before developing Ballantyne, he and Johnny Harris partnered to develop much of SouthPark, where they built more than 2 million square feet of office space.

Ballantyne Corporate Park makes up by far the biggest portion of Bissell’s portfolio, though the company does own assets in other parts of Charlotte, including the SouthPark area and industrial facilities near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. In November, Bissell sold two buildings on Carnegie Boulevard in SouthPark that it developed and managed in SouthPark for just over $40 million.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo