Uptown’s newest office tower is underway at 615 South College

There wasn’t any literal ground to break, but Atlanta-based Portman Holdings kicked off construction of uptown’s newest office tower Friday, to be built atop a parking deck on South College Street.

“This day has been a long time coming,” said Travis Garland of Portman Holdings. The company developed and owns the Westin hotel, which opened in 2003, and has been looking at development options for the adjacent parking deck since.

The 19-story tower has a total projected cost of $122 million and is scheduled to be complete in February 2017. Garland said crews will start “beefing up” the supports under the parking deck and then will take down parts of the exterior. A tower crane should be in place by December, adding to the half-dozen construction cranes dotting uptown’s skyline.

Gov. Pat McCrory recounted the fits and starts around the Lynx light rail, which is tied in to the Portman site, and the city’s convention center. Both projects were the subject of pitched political fights while he was Charlotte’s mayor.

“We took a lot of heat,” McCrory said. In 2003, he said he decided to proceed with the groundbreaking for the Westin despite the required paperwork not being signed by all parties, because a delay could have torpedoed financing for the whole project.

“It was very touch-and-go,” McCrory said. “Two weeks later, we got the signatures. I wouldn’t have been re-elected mayor, much less governor, if those papers hadn’t been signed.”

The Stonewall Street light-rail station is set to see major changes in the next few years, including the construction of a Whole Foods, hundreds of apartments and two hotels. Michael Smith, CEO of Center City Partners, said the station will be “one of the richest, most comprehensive transit stations in North America” when the wave of projects is complete.

Support from China is helping 615 South College move forward: China Orient Summit Capital is contributing equity for 615 South College. One of the two companies behind China Orient Summit Capital is the China Orient Asset Management Corp., established in 1999 by China’s Ministry of Finance.

A second company, PCCP LLC, is providing debt financing. The 370,000-square-foot office building is being built on a speculative basis, meaning no tenants have been signed yet.

A second speculative office building by Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, the 27-story Tryon Place tower at Stonewall and Tryon Streets, is scheduled to start this year as well. A 25-story office tower anchored by Babson Capital is under construction at 300 South Tryon.

Portman Holdings is marketing its building with Trinity Partners. John Portman & Associates is the architect. Because the office tower will be built atop the Westin’s parking deck, construction is expected to go quickly.

Ambrish Baisiwala, CEO of Portman Holdings, said the building likely will lease for about $33 to $34 per square foot.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo