I graduated from high school in Charlotte in 2006, moved away, then came back here in 2015. In the grand scheme, five years isn’t that long. But it’s enough time to experience the city and the places that make it. It’s also enough time to see some of those places torn down and replaced.
I remember eating lunch on a picnic bench outside the Charlotte Observer’s newsroom on South Tryon Street when I moved back. After the property was sold in 2016, my coworkers and I went to the roof and drank wine out of plastic cups to bid the building farewell. Now one of Charlotte’s tallest buildings stands in its place.
I remember eating tacos standing up during one of those Food Truck Fridays near the old Common Market in South End before the triangle-shaped lot was sold and replaced with Dimensional Fund Advisors’ shimmering new offices. Before Atherton got its facelift, I remember walking to a sports bar called IceHouse in South End (for some reason later renamed Bonz) to watch football when my roommate and I canceled our cable.
Things change quickly in this town.
Development is still booming, and the next few years promise to be just as busy. Last year, a handful of significant projects kicked off — including the airport lobby expansion, the new main library Uptown, and the Lowe’s tower in South End.
Here’s our roundup of the area’s biggest projects completed in 2019, and why they matter:
Description: In 2016, Columbia-based Edens announced its plans for a $100 million makeover of Atherton Mill, a century-old cotton mill property that in recent years included a farmers’ market. The property is now a posh shopping center adjacent to the light rail and walkable to other popular attractions in South End.
Details: Edens kept some of the historic buildings, including the Parks-Cramer facility that housed the mill itself. The developer added apartments and 60,000 square feet of retail, along with a parking deck. Edens has signed a number of high-profile tenants to its retail lineup, including West Elm, Barry’s Bootcamp, Madewell, Sephora, and the barbershop Arrow, shown below.
Why it matters: Edens is the developer that owns Park Road Shopping Center, which has a similar trendy vibe with tenants like Cava and J.Crew Factory. Edens has said it works to preserve the local flavor of properties while also creating shopping destinations filled with popular retailers. “Our vision was to create an authentic place that bridges the gap between Atherton’s historic roots and modern experiential canvas,” Edens managing director Lyle Darnall said.
Description: Development group White Point Pacers Partners bought the former hosiery mill next to the light rail in 2016 for about $6.4 million, property records show. White Point turned the 100-year-old factory into a spacious food hall with bars, restaurants, and offices.
Details: The $60 million redevelopment includes 83,000 square feet of office space that Duke Energy has turned into an “innovation hub,” a 22,000-square-foot food hall, and an additional 32,000 square feet of anchor restaurant and outdoor space. The hall currently has over a dozen tenants open, including Papi Queso, The Dumpling Lady, Spindle Bar, and Ava Pizzeria. Tenants will continue opening in waves through this summer, according to Erik Johnson of White Point. In total, the hall will have 19 food and beverage tenants.
Why it matters: From the new Krispy Kreme corporate offices a refurbished textile mill in South End to the renovation of an old church into a restaurant in Plaza Midwood, adaptive reuse projects are very popular in Charlotte, a city often criticized for tearing down its historic buildings to make way for new and shiny things. But such projects are expensive and almost always take longer than anticipated.
White Point originally planned to open sometime in mid-2018 but ran into a slew of challenges, including compliance to state historic building regulations, Johnson said. Today, Optimist Hall hums with people meeting for lunch, remote workers hunched over laptops at the hall’s long tables, and couples out for dates. Certain elements of the space that’ve been carefully preserved, such as its original hardwood floors, add to the hall’s charm. “There’s value in creating something that’s unique,” Johnson said. “It would have been easy to tear this building down and start fresh.”
Outside of 7th Street Public Market, Optimist Hall is also the only food hall of its kind in the region. It’s the kind of thing you see in larger cities — Atlanta, for instance, has Ponce City Market, and Chicago has Revival Food Hall. “People in Charlotte yearn for things they’ve experienced in other cities,” Johnson said.
Description: Beacon Partners purchased the site where the RailYard sits, at South Tryon and West Bland, for just over $10.1 million in 2015, the Charlotte Observer reported. The industrial-looking development was the first speculative office complex to open in South End.
Details: The property includes a pair of eight-story buildings, each with roughly 160,000 square feet of office space. The development also has about 30,000 square feet of ground-level retail. On the back side of the development are nearly 100 “micro” apartments, or units around 400 square feet. Such smaller apartments tend to be cheaper than the luxury units cropping up around Charlotte. The development has a sprawling outdoor patio facing South Tryon, as well as a rooftop deck.
EY (formerly Ernst & Young) was announced as an early office tenant of The RailYard last summer. WeWork opened its third Charlotte co-working space at The RailYard in August, and the fintech startup Better.com announced plans to expand into that WeWork space in September. A number of popular retail tenants have opened in The RailYard, too, including North Italia, OrangeTheory Fitness, and Rhino Market.
Why it matters: The RailYard adds to South End’s growing corporate presence. Just a few years ago, its property was little more than a gravel parking lot facing a few other South End hotspots, like Amos’ South End and Gin Mill. Construction has begun on a number of other major office projects in the years following Beacon’s purchase of The RailYard spot, including the mixed-use development that’ll house LendingTree’s new headquarters on South Tryon, and the Lowe’s tower on Camden.
Description: The Austin-based investment firm Dimensional Fund Advisors announced plans in the summer of 2015 to open an East Coast headquarters in Charlotte. That fall, local developer Cousins Properties shared plans for the project in South End. The project quickly drew sharp criticism because it would displace the popular Common Market and the nearby Food Truck Friday event on the corner of Camden and South Tryon.
Details: The nine-story mixed-use development that arose is a joint venture between Dimensional and Cousins and includes a 282,000-square-foot office building with ground-floor retail space. Dimensional signed a 15-year lease in 2016 to occupy 100 percent of the building’s office space. Cousins has not yet announced any of the retail tenants, which will occupy spaces along South Tryon, Park and Camden. “We want to get the right mix that’s good for the building,” Cousins’ managing director Mark Holoman said.
Why it matters: Along with The RailYard, the construction and opening of Dimensional Place has helped to cement South End’s place as a rapidly growing corporate center outside of Uptown. Developers and corporations love the area because it’s popular among young professionals. In addition to its proximity to the light rail, South End is walkable and filled with hundreds of breweries, apartment buildings, and posh restaurants. Property values in the area continue to skyrocket as developers squeeze in.
“South End is one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the Southeast,” Holoman said. “It’s really a model for other communities.”
Bank of America Tower
Description: Lincoln Harris and Goldman Sachs bought the former Charlotte Observer property at Stonewall and South Tryon streets for $37.5 million in 2016, the Observer reported. In a dramatic spectacle that summer, construction crews tore down the old Observer building to make way for Lincoln Harris’s massive new development. Named Legacy Union, the project is being built in five phases. Once complete, it will include three huge towers, retail, and other entertainment.
Details: Bank of America signed on as the anchor tenant for the first tower to open, and the first wave of bank employees started moving in last summer. The first employees occupy two floors of the 33-story tower, and by next summer, the bank will take up 23 floors. The other tenants confirmed for the Bank of America Tower include KPMG and law firm Parker Poe. Last fall, Bank of America opened a hi-tech branch on the ground floor of the building, accessible through the lobby.
The 1-million-square-foot tower has an expansive front plaza and a pedestrian bridge that connects the tower to a parking garage across Church Street. In the fall, Raleigh-based Highwoods Properties bought the building for $441.6 million, CBJ reported.
Why it matters: The Bank of America Tower is fourth tallest building in Charlotte and has reshaped the Uptown skyline. The development it anchors, Legacy Union, is the largest development to open in Uptown in decades. The development sits adjacent to Bank of America Stadium and is the first thing you see when coming into Uptown from South End. Lincoln Harris has called it “a prominent entrance to the city.”