Development

For 2016’s big development headlines, look at publicly owned land

Mecklenburg County is restarting the search for a developer for the Brooklyn Village project, a multi-use development in uptown.The county has re-launched a search for a developer to reshape 17 acres that now house Marshall Park, the shuttered Board of Education building and the Bob Walton Plaza in uptown Charlotte.
Mecklenburg County is restarting the search for a developer for the Brooklyn Village project, a multi-use development in uptown.The county has re-launched a search for a developer to reshape 17 acres that now house Marshall Park, the shuttered Board of Education building and the Bob Walton Plaza in uptown Charlotte. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

If you want to see where some of the biggest projects are likely to kick off next year in Charlotte, look at land the city and county own.

That might seem like a paradox in the world of development, where those who build new apartments, offices and stores often want less government regulation and minimal public intervention. But some of the most prime parcels are in public hands, from uptown to the airport, and local governments are looking for private developers to build.

Here are the top three areas where the public sector’s holdings will play a crucial role in development during 2016:

Stonewall Street corridor: Publicly owned land is already being developed on Stonewall Street, along uptown’s southern edge. There, city-owned parcels were left over when the N.C. Department of Transportation built the Interstate 277 loop. The city sold those parcels off to private developers to pay down debt incurred to build the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Now, those parcels are popping with development. Proffitt Dixon is putting the finishing touches on The Presley, a 230-unit apartment complex at Stonewall and McDowell streets.

Crescent Communities plans to build a Whole Foods, 450 apartments and two hotels at Stonewall and Caldwell streets, to be completed in 2017. Crescent hasn’t said what brands the hotels will be, so watch for that. Across the street, Northwood Ravin is buying another city-owned parcel at Stonewall and Caldwell for $14.2 million. The company hasn’t announced details for the project, which would feature apartments and possibly retail or office space.

Just down the street, Proffitt Dixon is under contract to buy the Actor’s Theatre site and a city-owned parcel at the I-277 interchange, with details to come about what they will build there. The firm has said it could build an apartment building of up to 10 stories on the site. The county-owned Bob Walton Plaza next to the theater on Stonewall Street is also expected to hit the market once the county finishes moving workers out to new offices.

Second Ward and the North Tryon corridor: If the Stonewall corridor has been mostly a city show, Mecklenburg County is firmly in the driver’s seat in other parts of uptown. Mecklenburg has restarted a search for a private developer to build on 17 acres in Second Ward that were wiped out by urban renewal in the late 1960s and ’70s.

The land, once a predominantly black neighborhood called Brooklyn Village, is now home to the Bob Walton Plaza, Marshall Park and the shuttered Board of Education building. The potential redevelopment – which has been planned for years without results – would transform a part of uptown that’s dominated by government buildings and a concrete-heavy park.

And to the north, the county’s holdings are just as extensive. In First Ward, the county is moving workers out of the Hal Marshall Center on North Tryon and an adjacent annex, and officials plan to market those parcels. The county also owns Spirit Square and is the major source of funds for the library, which has its uptown branch at North Tryon and Sixth streets. The county has started to float plans to renovate Spirit Square and tear down and rebuild the library as part of the North Tryon Vision Plan unveiled earlier this month.

As the owner of so much prime uptown land, Mecklenburg will influence how it develops. The county can attach conditions requiring developers to include workforce housing, pedestrian walkways or ground-floor retail in new developments – all of which county officials have indicated they’re considering.

“We feel this is the first time Mecklenburg County can make an impact on uptown,” said County Manager Dena Diorio, discussing plans for First Ward.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport: Economic developers often call Charlotte’s airport – a major hub for American Airlines – the city’s most important asset to attract businesses. Now, city officials are hoping to use some of the land around the airport to lure more development.

The airport has a lot of land: about 6,000 acres owned by the city, and the ability to influence thousands more around its perimeter. The first major non-aviation project at the airport was a rail freight yard built by Norfolk Southern between two runways, to transfer cargo from trains to trucks and vice versa. Officials hope the freight yard will draw more logistics and manufacturing companies.

Substantial additional development hasn’t materialized around the rail freight yard yet, however. This year, the city is spending $900,000 on a study to create a new master plan meant to guide development around the airport.

And the airport’s holdings are only growing. South of the western runway, between Interstate 485 and Steele Creek Road, the city has been spending $35 million to buy out a 370-acre neighborhood. Plans call for demolishing the houses there, which are under the path of approaching and departing jets, setting the stage to attract more industrial buildings.

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