State of the Center City: Booming

The cranes are back in force uptown, and boosters sum up the state of development in one word: “Booming.”

Numbers released Wednesday by Charlotte Center City Partners are eye-popping, especially compared with the post-recession depths a few months ago. About 3.5 million square feet of office space is planned or under construction in center city, which includes uptown and immediately surrounding areas.

A 46 percent increase in center city hotel rooms is on the way, with 2,251 planned or under construction. And more than 8,700 new residential units, mostly apartments, are planned or underway, which would bring almost 15,000 new residents.

After boom times in the early 2000s that peaked before the 2008 recession, development largely shut down for five years. The latest growth explosion could lead you to worry we’re witnessing an uptown bubble, or at the very least, the start of overbuilding. But Charlotte Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith said in an interview Wednesday he’s not worried.

“I’m really not,” said Smith, talking about the group’s annual State of the Center City report. “There’s been a deliberate pivot towards urbanity, and Charlotte is really well-positioned to take advantage of that macro-trend. You’re seeing strength in all categories.”

Smith is keeping an eye on problems that go along with construction, like closed streets, and says more can be done. He also said much of the new building now is playing catch-up after development slowed down.

“We dragged along through the first decade of the new millennium, where we only added, I think something like 300 (hotel) rooms,” said Smith. “These are big moves for this place.”

Center City Partners is a development booster group that receives most of its revenue from a special tax on properties in uptown and South End. From the group’s 16th floor offices on South Tryon Street, new developments are visible popping up across uptown: The 33-story Ascent apartments, a new 22-story hotel atop the EpiCentre, new apartments around the BB&T Ballpark.

Smith said one challenge moving forward will be managing all the growth. Roads and lanes have been shut down intermittently for construction, such as Church Street around the 300 South Tryon office tower and the roads around First Ward Park. That’s something Smith expects to continue.

“Part of it will be managing a large construction site,” he said. “We’re going to have to think differently...about the way we close streets and manage access.”

One key difference between the current office boom and past building spurts is who is behind the large projects, Smith said. Past large towers, such as the Duke Energy Center and Bank of America’s offices, were mostly sponsored by large banks.

“That’s a maturing of us as a city,” said Smith. “These are folks that are tapping into large capital markets to get construction financing.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Read the report

You can read the full 2016 State of the Center City report online here: