This is how Ballantyne pitched itself to Amazon, but came up short
A major revamp is coming to Ballantyne, part of a shift as the suburban office park competes with trendy areas like South End for major corporations and a younger workforce.
Northwood Office, a subsidiary of Ballantyne Corporate Park owner Northwood Investors, said over the weekend it plans to build a 25-acre town center, which will include shops, restaurants, parks, an amphitheater and 2,000 apartments. The first phase of the plan is projected to be built in the next five years on the land between the Ballantyne and Aloft hotels, which is home to a public golf course.
No cost for the plan has been revealed yet but the makeover comes as major firms have left the corporate park or passed up on opportunies to relocate there. In April, financial technology company LendingTree said it would move its headquarters from Ballantyne, where it had been since 2000, to South End.
In a competitive labor market, companies are looking to locate in walkable neighborhoods, with amenities like light rail, to attract millennials.
“This is long overdue for Ballantyne,” said Kenny Smith, a broker at New South Properties of the Carolinas. “The concern that some tenants often have (about Ballantyne) is it’s not walkable. You still have to get in your car to drive to some of your amenities.”
Ballantyne is a 2,000-acre community, with a business park that has over 4 million square feet of office space and includes such companies as Brighthouse Financial, Wells Fargo and TIAA.
But just over two decades ago, Ballantyne was nothing more than farmland, hunting fields and trees owned by the Harris family.
When Ballantyne was being built, the public golf course was seen as a key amenity for employees in the business park. It was one of only a handful of office park-golf courses that existed nationwide.
“It’s like having a big back yard, without having to pay the maintenance on it,” Smoky Bissell, whose company owned the site up until two years ago, told the Observer in a 1996 article.
But since then, employee preferences have changed, and the land the golf course sits on has grown more valuable. The new plans call for development to be built on the golf course site.
Several other public golf courses have been lost to new development over the years. Last month, Meritage Homes closed on the purchase of the land once home to the oldest public golf course in Charlotte. In its place, on Camp Stewart Road near Interstate 485 and Albemarle Road, the Arizona-based homebuilder will bring in around 350 homes.
And on the former site of Charlotte Golf Links, which closed in 2014, the Rea Farms development is underway, with shops, apartments, office space and homes.
John Barton, Northwood Office president, said the new redevelopment plans reflect a change in what corporations are looking for in choosing where to locate.
“In the old days, it was a CEO who was an old guy that liked golf and knew the owner and that was the reason why they went there,” he said. “That dynamic has just shifted. Companies are in a war for attracting talent. And most people, particularly the younger people, want these amenities.”
In addition to the loss of LendingTree, other companies have spurned Ballantyne. Just last week, Honeywell announced it was moving its headquarters to a new tower in uptown. The firm, which previously said it was coming to Charlotte from New Jersey, said it had considered Ballantyne.
And Ballantyne also made an unsuccessful pitch to land Amazon’s second headquarters.
Victoria Nwasike, chairwoman of the Board of Directors of South Charlotte Partners, said the new vision is needed to keep Ballantyne competitive with other areas for big companies.
“When you are losing companies that have started and have been in the Ballantyne Corporate Park like Lending Tree, and they actually chose another place for their expansion, then that really makes you question what do we need to do?”
Just minutes from the South Carolina border, Ballantyne is not just going up against other parts of Charlotte for relocations.
South Carolina has enticed a number of Charlotte companies over the years with tax incentives and inexpensive land. Some businesses that have moved — and taken thousands of jobs with them — include RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp., LPL Financial, Movement Mortgage and Lash Group.
“When you look at Ballantyne historically its been a real economic engine of south Charlotte,” Northwood’s Barton said. “This is really a critical piece of continuing to make Charlotte a viable relocation option for many companies.”
Barry Fabyan, a commercial real estate broker for JLL, said unlike in the past when companies looked for cheaper deals on real estate, executives now tend to prioritize locations that will attract and retain employees.
Needing ‘a refresh’
In 2017, Northwood Investors bought the corporate park from local developer the Bissell Cos. The $1.2 billion sale was the single largest transaction in Charlotte real estate history.
“They needed new ownership, new capital, a new vision,” said Holly Alexander, Smith’s partner at New South Properties. “It just kind of needed a refresh.”
Still, Nwasike said she’s cautiously optimistic about the latest plans. She said she’s waiting to hear specifics about how Northwood plans to alleviate traffic with a development of this size.
Because the development involves plans for more walkability, that will help take cars off the road, Barton said. The Charlotte Area Transit System also recently unveiled potential light rail routes to Pineville and Ballantyne.
“This isn’t a project where a developer is going to build the biggest building he can regardless of impact,” Barton said. “We have the most to lose if we don’t do this right.”
Reporter Katherine Peralta contributed