Lake Norman & Mooresville

Downtown property gets boost

A vacant lot in the heart of downtown may soon become a bustling office and commercial hub for Cornelius.

After nearly two years of planning, Cornelius commissioners approved the purchase of a vacant lot next to town hall by the Stewart Group of Davidson.

The site formerly housed the Cornelius Police Department before the building was demolished in 2009. The new police department is across the street.

"The town's master plan has had a corner building on that site for years," said partner David Stewart. "I like doing new, infill projects like these."

According to the agreement, the Stewart Group put a $5,000 down payment on the land in order to plan the building design and search for tenants over the next 12 months.

If town commissioners approve the plans after a year, the Stewart Group will then purchase the lot from the town for $100,000.

"They're taking a risk in the sense that they're developing it in this economy," said Mayor Jeff Tarte. "But when it's done, it will be a huge anchor and it should really help revitalize the downtown."

According to preliminary plans, the building is expected to be two stories, with 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of office and civic space on the second floor.

There may even be a rooftop terrace, said Tarte.

"This site has a really small footprint. But we want to make sure we give it the mass it needs so it doesn't look dwarfed by the neighboring buildings," said Stewart.

And because of its location, the Stewart Group worked closely with town staff in discussing possible parking headaches in the future.

Ultimately, the Stewart Group agreed to some underground parking on the site in exchange for some shared parking space at Cornelius Town Hall.

The Stewart Group has previous experience working on odd-shaped lots in the Lake Norman area.

In 2009, Stewart developed Stowe's Corner, a 23,000 square foot mixed-use development in downtown Davidson.

Today, it's a popular destination for residents visiting Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse and other local businesses on the second floor.

For the Cornelius project, Stewart said he'd like to see a bank or restaurant occupy the bottom floor, noting that the east side of I-77 in the town is "underserved from the bank perspective."

"A restaurant would mean that something was going on after 5 p.m. in downtown," he added.

There are some uses, however, that will not be allowed at the site, according to the group's agreement with the town.

The site will not be allowed to include such businesses as nail salons, nightclubs, drycleaners or convenience stores.

Stewart said he will likely focus more on finding possible tenants for the building than working on the design over the next 12 months.

"The market is really going to drive the development process," he said. "And it's a really tough market right now."