Over at the Westin Hotel, about 400 real estate developers, investors, lenders, politicians and urban planners are holding a two-day conference to talk about trends driving real estate investment across the Carolinas. It's sponsored by the Charlotte, Triangle-area and South Carolina chapters of the Urban Land Institute, a national nonprofit think tank devoted to promoting responsible land usage and strong communities.
Some of the biggest names in Carolinas real estate development are on hand. Among them yesterday was one of Charlotte's best-known real estate developers, Johnny Harris, a driving force behind the development of the SouthPark Mall area. He spoke on a panel with other prominent developers about real estate opportunities and challenges in today's market.
He had a few thoughts. Among them:
- Environmentally sensitive buildings are in. LEED-certified buildings are increasingly the industry standard, not an option. "The tree huggers are now running the companies," he said.
- The younger generation of workers want office buildings with open spaces, lots of natural light. And they're not interested in driving way out to far-flung, car-dependent office buildings to work, he told the crowd. They want walkable, transit-friendly communities. "Live-work-play is an overused term," he said, "but that's absolutely what people want to do."
- Fracking's a big deal. "When we talk about the changes going forward ... the most important thing in my lifetime besides the computer is the development of how to frack and how to bring natural gas out of the ground. I'm sorry for those of you who have environmental concerns about it, but it's like the electric light, the electric current. When (electricity) first started coming out it was dangerous because they didn't know how to use it. But fracking is going to create an affordable power source for this country for the next 50 to 70 years. No other country in the world is going to have what we have. We may be able ... to catch up because we can keep the cost of our utilities in line."
- Politics can be a pain. He got a big round of applause and some laughs after the following extended commentary: "The single most important thing that could happen in the Carolinas now that you've got the airport working and you've got what's going on near the airport -- and I'll tell you how politics plays a role -- you could connect the three major universities in this state -- State, Duke and Chapel Hill -- with light rail. You could do that and connect the single biggest asset we have in this state, which is the minds of the people who go to those schools. And you could tie those three urban areas together. And yet you have county commissions that say they will support building a light rail line in a time period, and you'll have a city council that says that's a waste of money we're not going to do that. I could tell you every reason in the world why it's better to have buses, but people won't ride buses and that's not the future. So think about how important it is. The people you vote for need to spend time and understand that the political leadership you vote for can screw up everything."