Levine readies more development as First Ward Park preps to open

Grass is growing and crews are putting finishing touches on landscaping along Seventh Street in Charlotte’s First Ward, where big hopes are riding on a new park.

Developer Daniel Levine, whose company is building First Ward Park, took me on a tour of the new park and surrounding areas Monday. Built on a former surface parking lot on Seventh Street, across from ImaginOn, the 4-acre park is expected to anchor a major redevelopment.

Many of the adjacent parcels owned by Levine are still surface parking lots, but the company plans to start development on several of them soon. Designs for the area have been in the works for years. Now, Levine – who has faced criticism for not developing his company’s holdings sooner – is taking steps to put the pieces together, starting with the park.

Next month, Mecklenburg County will take ownership of First Ward Park, paying Levine Properties $8 million. The company will also receive $3.3 million from the city and county for improvements to infrastructure around the site, such as sidewalks and streets. First Ward Park will then open to the public, with a dedication, tours, music, hot chocolate and a holiday lights switching-on ceremony set for Dec. 8.

“By this time next week, we’ll be done,” said Levine. The heavy lifting is already complete. Around the park, wider sidewalks with landscaping have been installed, making the area more pedestrian-friendly. Eighth Street will open next month, bisecting the park. The road can be closed for festivals and weekend events.

The park is segmented into different areas, with water jets and a children’s play area closer to Seventh Street and ImaginOn, and a fountain and shady areas to sit next to UNC Charlotte’s uptown building on 9th Street. Color-changing LED lights have been installed throughout, and a building on the park’s west side will be available to rent for parties and other community events.

Levine Properties is the biggest property owner in the area, with about 24 acres. Daniel Levine laid out his plans for the lots around First Ward Park during a stroll through the neighborhood.

▪ Across from the park, between Seventh and Eighth Streets along Brevard Street, Levine plans to build two Hilton-branded hotels. He said his firm is now an official franchisee and has hired a design company to plan the hotels, a process he hopes to complete in the first quarter next year.

▪ The Philip Carey building (formerly Dixie’s Tavern), a warehouse that’s more than 100 years old, is under renovation at 7th Street and the light rail. The building will feature a public walkway allowing people to walk through the structure to access the park. Levine said he has signed a confidentiality agreement with the tenant, but said the business that’s renting the building will “invite the public.”

“It’s going to be a great tenant,” said Levine. He said he couldn’t confirm rumors that the tenant will be Google, which has created urban showrooms in other cities where it is installing its ultra-fast fiber network.

▪ Levine said he’s looking for a retail or restaurant tenant to occupy a historic but boarded-up building at Seventh and Brevard streets, which he plans to renovate.

▪ Running along the west side of the light rail extension, Levine is planning to build “Market Street,” which will run between Seventh and Ninth streets.

Levine Properties will build the street – which will accommodate two-way car traffic and could be closed for festivals and other events – after the light rail extension segment is finished. Levine hopes to attract retailers to the area. Above-ground power lines running along the future Market Street will be buried once light rail construction is done.

▪ Levine has hired brokerage firm HFF to market the surface parking lot at Eighth Street and the light rail to developers.

“It’s time to let others in,” Levine said. “I hope it’s something dense,” fitting the area’s urban vision.

▪ Next to UNC Charlotte, on Ninth Street just east of the light rail, Levine plans a 20-story office tower. His firm is searching for an anchor tenant for the office building, and doesn’t plan to build the tower on a speculative basis.

▪ A block north, at 10th and Brevard streets, Levine Properties is planning to build 264 apartment units wrapped around a 1,300-space parking deck. The deck would provide parking for UNC Charlotte and the light rail as well. A funding dispute with UNC Charlotte should be resolved soon, possibly by early next month, Levine said. He has paused construction on the deck until his company receives a $4.2 million equity investment from UNC Charlotte in return for its use of 300 spaces. UNC Charlotte has said the funds are in escrow and a deal should be finalized soon.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo