Lake Norman & Mooresville

Can 3 proposed LKN projects succeed grandly where others are not?

The Langtree Development at Exit 31, originally slated to include some 310 acres, has seen a partial build out of retail and apartments. However, plans for a $5 million aquatic center and a 227-room Doubletree Hotel/Convention Center, for which construction was supposed to start in 2015, have been canceled.
The Langtree Development at Exit 31, originally slated to include some 310 acres, has seen a partial build out of retail and apartments. However, plans for a $5 million aquatic center and a 227-room Doubletree Hotel/Convention Center, for which construction was supposed to start in 2015, have been canceled. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Three proposed developments in the northern Mecklenburg/southern Iredell County area encompassing more 185 acres have generated a variety of strong opinions among local officials and residents over the past several months.

Beyond the usual concerns about traffic and the environment, an underlying question is whether these developments can be successfully built within a short distance from where one project was abandoned and another fell short of goals.

The new projects are Lake Davidson in Mooresville, the Beaty Street Property in Davidson and Vermillion Village in Huntersville. All three include residential and commercial development.

Given the issues at play, the Huntersville project may stand the best chance of quick approval.

“It has already received the green light from the Huntersville Town Board,” Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber, said of the new Vermillion phase, “and the project is being developed by Nate Bowman who introduced his earlier version of Vermillion almost two decades ago.

“That development has been very successful and his new project fits in with the town’s master plan to create a sense of place and a revitalized downtown district.”

Meanwhile, the Lake Davidson project in Mooresville and Beaty Property Development in Davidson have met strong resistance from residents, primarily because of concerns regarding traffic congestion and over-development of the areas.

The Mooresville Town Board may vote on the rezoning needed for the Lake Davidson Project at its July 10 meeting.

In Davidson, the town board is compiling requests for the developer. Membors will then wait to hear if the developer will be able to make the changes and create a final proposal for the board of commissioners to review. The matter could be discussed at the July 11 meeting.

While each developer is optimistic about his plans, similar large projects within a few miles in Cornelius and Mooresville have not achieved expectations. A 110-acre mixed use property in Cornelius that was to be called Augustalee has never materialized and the property lies vacant, even though it’s located within one of the county’s more affluent towns.

Just 3 miles to the north, the Langtree Development at Exit 31, originally slated to include some 310 acres, has seen a partial build out of retail and apartments. However, plans for a $5 million aquatic center and a 227-room Doubletree Hotel/Convention Center, for which construction was supposed to start in 2015, have been canceled.

The most successful mixed-use development in north Mecklenburg is Birkdale Village in Huntersville, which covers some 52 acres with more than 70 retailers, coupled with second-story apartments. It has seen some turnover among retailers. Most recently Smoke Modern Barbeque, a Colorado-based restaurant, closed its doors after just two years at Birkdale. J.Jill women’s clothing recently opened.

A factor feeding optimism and ultimate success is timing.

“Any project’s success is often a matter of timing in conjunction with market conditions,” said Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron. “We are currently in a time, post recession, when money is more freely available so the likelihood of having capital to get a project out of the ground is increasing daily.”

Russell of the Lake Norman chamber agrees that timing is a crucial element — for better or for worse. “The single biggest threat to the Augustalee and LangTree projects was simply bad timing as both were caught up in the recession, which gripped our national economy.

“In a recovering economy, the LangTree project was resumed, albeit in a much more scaled back approach, with new investors and plans for the project.”

Russell noted the Augustalee project became controversial because the market had an existing supply of office and retail space and critics noted existing transportation infrastructure did not support the project.

Transportation is another major factor that can play a role in the success or failure of major, mixed-use development proposals. The congestion on Interstate 77 is well-documented, yet all three proposed projects are less than a mile from I-77, and none of the developers seem concerned over proximity to the highly used interstate. Perhaps this is because by the time they are built, the construction on I-77 will be completed.

Bill Thunberg, who currently heads up the Lake Norman Transportation Commission and was once mayor of Mooresville, adds a few others factors lending to success or not..

“Most developments, particularly large multi-phase, mixed-use projects that occur over many years are affected by market conditions including local competition, as well as macroeconomic conditions such as interest rates and changes in consumer behavior.”

Dave Vieser is a freelance writer: davidvieser@gmail.com.

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