Levine Properties planning 20-story office tower uptown

A model of Levine Properties’ planned new 20-story tower in First Ward.
A model of Levine Properties’ planned new 20-story tower in First Ward.

Uptown’s First Ward could soon see more construction: As Levine Properties wraps up work on a new park, the company is planning a 20-story office tower to go with new apartments and hotels.

The new tower, announced Tuesday, is planned for a site next to UNC Charlotte’s uptown building, at the corner of Ninth Street and the light rail extension. The 325,000-square-foot building would be the latest addition to an uptown skyline that’s sprouting new office towers and high-rise apartments. Levine Properties is seeking an anchor tenant and plans to start interviewing prospective marketing firms for the property in the fall.

“There’s a great deal happening right now,” said Daniel Levine, president of Levine Properties, speaking at the Charlotte Rotary Club. He said the top priority now is finding an anchor tenant for the building. Levine doesn’t plan to build it as a speculative building, without a primary tenant.

The office building is the latest piece announced in a major overhaul of First Ward by Levine Properties, which owns about 24 acres – nine city blocks – in one of the largest assemblages of privately held land uptown. The area has long been dominated by surface parking lots, but Levine’s vision includes 1,500 apartments, 450 hotel rooms, 1.5 million square feet of office space and new retail space.

The redevelopment is all planned along the Blue Line light rail extension, which is set to open in 2017.

The four-acre First Ward Park, intended to anchor the redevelopment, is set to be completed in November, Levine said. His company will turn the park over to Mecklenburg County, with a grand opening planned for December.

And Levine said his company has hired Ryan Clutter, senior managing director of HFF’s Charlotte office, as listing broker for a 3.7-acre parcel bounded by College Street, the light rail line, Eighth and Ninth streets. “Block 42,” as it’s called, is zoned for mixed-use development and could accommodate street-level retail and multifamily, in addition to more office development, Levine said.

Levine Properties has been assembling land in First Ward for more than three decades. Daniel Levine said he and his father –Alvin Levine, who started Pic ‘n Pay shoes and is his partner in the firm – first became attracted to the area when they noticed land was 30 percent cheaper north of Seventh Street. They bought the land piece by piece.

“It was like hand-to-hand combat,” Levine said. “I said to my dad, ‘Either we’re the dumbest people on the planet or we’re going to end up pretty lucky.’”

The company has faced criticism for not developing the land sooner, even as much of uptown boomed and redevelopment started to transform the southern end of the city center. Levine acknowledged that Tuesday. He said there were opportunities to build earlier, but the city’s rapid growth during the 1980s and 1990s kept rendering plans invalid.

“It is true, we had a few false starts over the years. We designed projects, we permitted projects and we canceled projects,” said Levine. “Every time we were ready, my dad and I came to conclude we were underbuilding. I’d rather do nothing than not do it well.”

“So, we did nothing. We got criticized for it, and that’s OK. My dad said ‘We’re big boys. We can take a bit of ink,’” Levine said.

Levine Properties joins several other prominent developers who are launching new office towers as the market picks up steam following the recession. Spectrum Properties is building 300 South Tryon, a 25-story tower, while Portman Holdings recently started work on 615 South College, a 19-story tower. Crescent Communities plans to start soon on a 27-story tower at Tryon and Stonewall streets.

Outside of uptown, Beacon Properties is working on a seven-story office building on Morehead Street, Lincoln Properties is building a pair of 10-story office buildings in SouthPark and Bissell is starting work on a 10-story office building in Ballantyne.

In First Ward, Levine is also working on a 260-unit apartment complex at 10th and Brevard streets, which will wrap around a 1,400-space parking deck. Work has restarted again on the parking deck following a brief dispute over funding with UNC Charlotte, a spokeswoman said.

Levine also plans to bring two Hilton-branded hotels, a Homewood Suites and a Canopy by Hilton, to the area. An exact location for the hotels hasn’t been announced. The 20-story Levine Properties tower is designed by LS3P Architecture

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo