Mecklenburg County narrows search for Second Ward developer to three local firms

Rendering images from the county’s old Second Ward Master Plan Handout
Rendering images from the county’s old Second Ward Master Plan Handout Courtesy Char-Meck Planning Dept.

Mecklenburg County has narrowed its search for a developer to rebuild Second Ward to three local firms, each of which has a history of redeveloping in urban areas.

County commissioners are set to hear an update on the plans Tuesday night at their regular meeting. They restarted the search in October for a developer to partner with in reshaping 17 acres that house Marshall Park, the shuttered Board of Education building and the Bob Walton Plaza in uptown Charlotte.

The county-owned land was once part of the predominantly black Brooklyn Village community, which was leveled during so-called “urban renewal” in the 1960s and ’70s. Developer Spectrum Properties had been set to help rebuild the property, with plans that called for a hotel, affordable housing and market-rate condos, offices and restaurants. But Spectrum dropped out in 2013, and plans have since stalled.

The three firms picked as finalists are Crescent Communities, Citisculpt and Conformity Corp., according to county documents. All are based in Charlotte and each has relevant redevelopment experience.

▪ Crescent purchased vacant land on Stonewall Street earlier this year from the city of Charlotte and plans to develop it as a Whole Foods, apartments and hotels. The company is also building an office tower at Stonewall and Tryon streets.

▪ Citisculpt is working on a redevelopment in downtown Durham that will replace a defunct car dealership with hundreds of apartments, office buildings, retail and hotels. The company is also building an office building and apartments on West Morehead Street, just outside of uptown.

Lindsey McAlpine, Citisculpt managing partner, said the firm has been looking for a place in Charlotte to do a development like the one they are building in Durham.

“We’re hoping for a pedestrian-friendly environment with lots of outdoor space,” he said. The firm’s preliminary plans include a large park, up to 1.8 million square feet of office, retail, residential (including market-rate, senior and affordable options), hotel and civic space. They’d also keep the historic Second Ward High gym.

▪ Conformity has redeveloped old buildings in Charlotte such as the Carolina School Supply building, and has also built new residential and mixed-use projects. President Monte Ritchey declined to share the firm’s plans for Second Ward but said he aims to fulfill all “desired outcomes” for the area.

“That will be tricky to achieve while maximizing revenue for the county,” he said. “We hope to thread the eye of that needle.”

Crescent couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. Final submissions, including complete redevelopment plans and an offer to purchase the county’s property, are due to the county by Feb. 19. Commissioners will then evaluate the plans and make their final selection.

The Second Ward land represents one of the largest redevelopment opportunities in uptown, where a wave of new building is already remaking large areas. Nearby, Stonewall Street is being transformed by the sale of five city-owned parcels and the potential sale of another county-owned tract, the Bob Walton Plaza, to private developers who are building apartments, retail and hotels.

And with First Ward Park open and the Blue Line light rail extension set to start running in 2017, major changes are set to come to the north side of uptown as well.

Some county commissioners have pushed to ensure developers uphold vows officials made to former Brooklyn Village residents long ago. Those promises include plans for a school on the site, although “we’re not sure” what that could look like, said Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller.

“There’s still a fair amount of work to do to get that to come to task,” he said.

Fuller plans to appoint two commissioners – himself included – to a steering committee that will interview the three firms and provide a recommendation on the finalist. He said it’s important developers understand the need to preserve the village’s historic prominence while also looking to the future.

“We’re not requiring any specific mixture of uses, although it would seem to make sense there would be a mixture of uses” that includes affordable housing, Fuller said.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo