Growing up in Chicago, Ethan Meyer remembers his family living near the stores and restaurants they would frequent on a daily basis.
So when Meyer was hired as the executive chef for the new Block & Grinder restaurant at LangTree Lake Norman, it only felt natural to move into an apartment in the mixed-use development.
“I still think I’m a city boy in some aspects of my life,” said Meyer, 26, who has a two-bedroom apartment just a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant in southern Iredell County. “I’ve always considered being able to walk to my job as being one of those facets of being ideal.”
The mix of elements – all located on the shores on Lake Norman, North Carolina’s biggest man-made lake – have proven attractive to residents and businesses that have moved into LangTree Lake Norman since Phase 1 of the development opened in 2014.
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“We’re seeing two main demographic groups that have gravitated to this project,” said Brian Long, vice president of sales and leasing at LangTree Lake Norman for RL West Properties, the developer of the project.
“We’re seeing the young professional that’s not quite ready to start a family, and doesn’t need a lot of space. The surprising thing is – and it’s a very large group here – the other major segment is that early ‘empty-nester’ group, that is downsizing from the big ‘McMansion’ on the lake.
“They really love this kind of setting because, frankly, nobody likes to get out in traffic and all that. That’s the whole concept here. You can get home Friday afternoon, park your car for the weekend and go to dinner or shop.
“Everything you may want or need, we want to be able to provide right here.”
That was the original concept when LangTree at the Lake – the first iteration of the project – was announced in 2005, and had its ceremonial groundbreaking in mid-2006. But the project – to be developed in phases over 325 acres at Interstate 77’s Exit 31 – languished as the economy hit a downturn, and real estate financing became hard to come by.
In 2011, the Howard family – the originators of the LangTree development – sold to RL West.
RL West opened the first phase of the project (apartments, condominiums, retail shops and office space) in May 2015. The site has 325 acres at Interstate 77’s Exit 31 in Mooresville.
The shops and restaurants aren’t your typical national franchises. Developers aimed at bringing in more local and regional operations for Phase 1.
“We knew we weren’t going to attract national names at the beginning; that was something that was going to come along later on,” Long said. “But we like the local flavor that we’ve got right now.”
That local flavor was what attracted the owners of the Block & Grinder, which specializes in menu items featuring premium beef, organically-grown meat and vegetables and wild game, to LangTree Lake Norman.
“It was the development itself that drove me to even go up there,” said owner Jed Kampe, who opened the first Block & Grinder in Charlotte’s Cotswold neighborhood in March 2013. “We were thinking the second one would be more in south Charlotte – the Ballantyne area, somewhere like that.
“The businesses (near LangTree) – Lowe’s, Novant Healthcare and so forth – were looking for that ‘steakhouse option’ where they could hold meetings and other corporate functions. ... But RL West didn’t want to be a cookie-cutter type setup in its retail setup, and wanted to tap into the local flavor. So we were approached about doing something there.
“My folks used to live in Cornelius, so I’m very familiar with the area. We knew there were some up-and-coming restaurants that were going to make a mark. … But what LangTree had to offer in terms of facilities and access, it really stuck out. So we fast-tracked our decision to do a second location, and do it there.”
RL West officials are moving ahead with the next phase of the development with more commercial and retail space, highlighted by a 243-room DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and convention center and the SwimMAC Carolina aquatic center.
But unlike past projects – including the initial planning for LangTree Lake Norman – officials are taking a smarter approach with the future development of LangTree.
“We’ve hired some of the best people in the country to help us with what I call ‘the science behind the development,’” said Mark Lockman, RL West’s director of development at LangTree Lake Norman.
“In doing these mixed-use developments, you’re really trying to create a world we grew up in when we were younger, that Main Street kind of environment, and we kinda got away from that. There’s a lot of plusses to that kind of environment. What we want to do is have the kind of place where you can park your car, and spend hours or a day here and they’re comfortable coming to the entire development.
“We’re not looking for the ‘big box’ experience here. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s plenty of other areas that have that.”