Development

Work starts on 22-story hotel tower atop the EpiCentre

John McKibbon of McKibbon Hotel Group,right, and Paul Picarazzi of Vision Ventures atop the EpiCenter where construction is underway on the dual-branded AC Hotel and Residence Inn Tower.
John McKibbon of McKibbon Hotel Group,right, and Paul Picarazzi of Vision Ventures atop the EpiCenter where construction is underway on the dual-branded AC Hotel and Residence Inn Tower. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

One of uptown’s last lingering reminders of the recession is about to be wiped away, as developers start construction on a new hotel tower atop the EpiCentre.

The project was originally planned to be a 51-story condo tower, but the plans fell through during the recession, leaving unfinished steel rebar and concrete poking through the roof of the EpiCentre, the shopping and entertainment complex at Fifth and Trade streets.

Now, Vision Ventures is partnering with McKibbon Hotel Group to build a 22-story hotel tower on the site. Workers have put a tower crane up, and on Wednesday held a “sky breaking” event to mark the official start of construction.

The 300-room, dual branded hotel is set for completion in late 2017. Plans include a 116-room Residence Inn and a 184-room AC Hotel by Marriott, and the hotel will feature a rooftop restaurant and bar, as well as a top-floor luxury penthouse.

The plans also include restaurant space that will be for lease on the fifth level and retail space for lease on the ground floor.

Uptown is seeing a bit of a hotel building boom, with a 195-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott and a 250-room Embassy Suites under construction nearby. Other hotels have been announced as coming soon, such as a tower atop the Carolina Theatre and hotels to be built at the 300 South Tryon and Tryon Place office buildings.

John McKibbon, chairman of McKibbon Hotel Group, said he believes the new EpiCentre hotel’s location and proximity to businesses, shops and restaurants will protect it from the effects of any overbuilding.

“A lot of hotels are getting built, and some areas are going to get overbuilt,” he said. “The real protection is to have the very best location in uptown.”

This will be the first AC Hotel in Charlotte. The brand originated in Europe, and is expanding into the U.S. with more than 60 planned. It’s the second Residence Inn uptown, in addition to one on Mint Street.

The new hotel tower joins a list of condo projects that were held back by the recession but have come back in recent years. Atop the Mint Museum, Childress Klein is now building a 394-room tower that had been planned almost a decade ago, which will be apartments. And the Vue, a 51-story condo that went into foreclosure after most of its condos didn’t sell, was acquired by Northwood Ravin and turned into apartments.

Paul Picarazzi, a principal at Vision Ventures, said the company decided to build a hotel tower instead of the originally planned condos because they judged the market to be better for hospitality projects. Vision Ventures and partner Mount Vernon Asset Management bought the EpiCentre in 2010 after the original developer lost control of the complex in foreclosure. They sold the EpiCentre to a California-based real estate group in 2014 for $130.5 million, but retained air rights to build the unfinished tower.

Local statistics show the hotel market has strengthened in recent years. Recent estimates from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority show the average daily hotel room rate in Mecklenburg County was expected to hit $104 a night last year, an all-time high. That’s up from $82 in the depths of the recession.

The occupancy rate for Mecklenburg County was 73.2 percent in November, the CRVA said, up 2 percent from the same month last year.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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