In Ballantyne, Bissell plans its largest spec building yet

A rendering of the planned Brigham building at Ballantyne Corporate Park.
A rendering of the planned Brigham building at Ballantyne Corporate Park.

The Bissell corporation is back in building mode. And that means more cranes will be coming to Ballantyne soon.

The development company is kicking off a new, 10-story building on North Community House Road, at the 12th hole of Ballantyne’s golf course. It plans to start construction as soon as next week. The building will have an adjacent parking deck and balconies on the third and tenth floors.

Bissell chief executive Ned Curran said the firm plans to finish the 287,500-square-foot building by November 2016, which would put it ahead of competitors constructing new office towers in uptown.

“We can deliver product a lot quicker in the marketplace,” said Curran, wearing a red Bissell tie and sitting in the company’s pitch room, where it brings prospective tenants. “We’ve always been building, and building and building.”

The Brigham building will be named for Craig Brigham, a doctor who treated Bissell chairman Smoky Bissell.

The new office building is being built on a speculative basis, meaning no tenants have been signed yet. Most of Ballantyne Corporate Park’s buildings were on a speculative basis.

Ballantyne completed its most recent pair of speculative buildings in 2012, during the aftermath of the recession. MetLife, which created an East Coast hub in Charlotte, has largely filled those. Since then, Ballantyne has paused, waiting for its space to fill. Economic development officials said additional large blocks of office space could help lure the next MetLife-sized company.

“Speculative construction is critical to luring corporate relocations and expansions to Charlotte,” said Bob Morgan, CEO of the Charlotte Chamber.

Bissell isn’t the only company building more office space, much of it speculative. Two new office towers are underway uptown, by Spectrum Properties and Portman Holdings, and a third by Crescent Communities is planned to start soon. A new office building by Beacon Partners is underway on East Morehead street in midtown, and Lincoln Harris is building a pair of new office buildings in SouthPark.

‘Antsy’ to build more

After the Brigham building is complete, Ballantyne Corporate Park will have more than 4.5 million square feet of office space.

The Ballantyne office submarket, which includes more than the corporate park itself, is the third-largest office submarket in the city by square footage, according to real estate tracking firm Exceligent Karnes. The largest and second-largest office submarkets are uptown and the I-77/Southwest area, which includes the Tyvola Road area near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

And Bissell plans to keep building: After the Brigham building, the company will still have entitlements to add nearly two million more square feet of office space to the corporate office park.

The next phase of planned development includes 900,000 more square feet of office space on North Community House Road, on which Bissell has funded various improvements over the past several years.

Curran said Bissell hopes to market most of that space as a major corporate headquarters, whenever a prospective company comes calling. The development company is also planning a 150-room hotel.

“We’re kind of holding this out for a customer, a corporate headquarters, a major relocation into Charlotte, to say ‘Tell us what you want,’ ” Curran said.

He said Toyota, which ultimately chose to relocate its North American headquarters to a suburb of Dallas, looked at Ballantyne during its search and is the type of company Bissell wants to lure.

“Smoky’s getting antsy about starting the Gateway West building,” said Curran, referring to another speculative possibility on North Community House Road. “Why don’t I just kick that off too? We’ll see how it goes.”

Office construction has been coming back in Charlotte, after a long lull after the recession. Occupancy rates have crept higher, pushing rents up, and there’s enough demand to justify more building, Curran said. Ballantyne is almost 95 percent occupied, though parts of the corporate park are at almost 100 percent capacity.

“We’re very tight,” said Rett Turner, Bissell vice president. Citywide, the office vacancy rate was 14 percent in the first quarter, according to Exceligent Karnes.

In Ballantyne, hundreds of thousands of square feet of available space have been taken in recent years by companies such as Snyder’s-Lance.

“Lance is a perfect example,” said Bissell vice president Kim Kendall. “They started out with three floors and took a whole building.”

Synchrony Financial and TIAA CREF have also signed leases for big chunks of space.

“All of a sudden we’re out of inventory, and that breathing room we thought we had is gone,” Curran said. “That’s what compels us to say let’s start this building.”

Although the trend nationally has been to shift development back toward downtowns from suburban office parks, Curran said Ballantyne remains strong because of its level of amenities. Bissell, which owns all of the office buildings, pitches walking trails, its golf course, a new YMCA under construction, and its green building certifications when wooing tenants. The Brigham building, for example, will be built to LEED Gold energy efficiency standards.

“We try to play to all of that,” Curran said.

The Brigham building is planned to rent at $32 to $34 per square foot, Curran said. LS3P Associates is the architect, and Rodgers Builders is the general contractor.

“The timing is ideal to increase office inventory in Ballantyne,” Smoky Bissell said in a statement. “We continue to invest in Charlotte because we believe in our city’s ability to attract and retain strong businesses.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo