Monday, March 31, 2014

Former Charlotte planner: City-county staff stands up to developers and politicians

Fairly or not, the FBI sting of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has cast a shadow over the interplay between local real estate developers and politicians. The FBI's case against Cannon centers on allegations that he was willing to accept thousands of dollars in cash payments, as well as trips and other benefits, in exchange for helping real estate developers fast-track their projects past city and county regulators.

City-county planning staff and real estate developers alike have been skittish about talking publicly about the case, but I recently spoke with a couple of veterans of the local planning and zoning scene. Both, like everyone else with ties to local government, were aghast at the allegations. Walter Fields, former land development manager for the planning commission, said he never felt undue pressure to approve a real estate project during his time there in the 1980s and 1990s. He said that while developers might press to get their projects approved, he and other staffers felt comfortable opposing them on the merits -- even if the planning board and city council later approved the project anyway. "I often got in hot water by maintaining my professional role and getting cross-ways with a public official," said Fields, who now does consulting work with developers.

The FBI says Cannon told undercover agents posing as real estate investors that he exercised enough sway over city-county staff in charge of planning, zoning, alcohol licensing and building permits that he could get their projects approved. Mary Hopper, a past chairwoman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning commission board, said she found it  hard to believe such boasts would be anything more than empty ones. "I've seen the staff, whether it's the Charlotte Department of Transportation or city-county planning director Debra (Campbell's) people really put the screws to them in terms of, 'This is what we need' before approving the project.  And in a collaborative way. And if it didn't work, some of the developers walked away."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What should North Carolina's new slogan be?

The N.C. Department of Commerce, in the midst of a massive overhaul of the way it markets the states to outside industry, wants your help in coming up with North Carolina's new 'brand.' The department is launching the Brand North Carolina project, which will be handled by UNC Chapel Hill's Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

I suppose it makes sense that the state is doing this, given the waves of negative national press North Carolina has received in the past year or so over everything from the Moral Mondays protests to tough new voter ID legislation to aggressive cuts in unemployment benefits to new abortion restrictions.

It includes two contests open to N.C. residents. One is a creative expression contest in which you use photography, poetry, song, dance, video or other artistic means to convey what N.C. means to you. According to a commerce department press release, submittals should represent the values, culture and community of North Carolina. (Don't laugh. The winner gets $2,000).

The second contest, according to the press release, is a "case competition" in which student teams will tackle marketing issues around the state's brand and compete with other teams to recommend the new 'brand positioning' for the state. The state is also recruiting "brand ambassadors" to help spread the word about the project. Feeling civic-minded? You can register as a possible ambassador here.

In the meantime, why don't we start throwing some ideas around? What do you think North Carolina's new slogan or brand should be?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Apartment construction surges to all-time high in Charlotte

The newest report by multifamily research firm Real Data shows apartment construction has surged to an all-time high in Charlotte.

The new report, tracking activity in Charlotte's multifamily market over the past six months, shows 10,067 units under construction. Most of the new units are Class A properties in uptown and in neighborhoods such as the South End, SouthPark, NoDa and Elizabeth. Another 11,003 units have been proposed. Real Data's Charles Dalton says this is the most apartment development Charlotte has ever seen. The previous high came during the construction boom of 2000, when just under 8,000 units were under construction.

Officials broke ground last week for The Mint, one of the latest apartment complexes to begin construction uptown.
The city over the past five years has averaged 4,479 units under construction, so the latest figures show the multifamily development market has yet to cool down, despite concerns in some quarters that it might be getting overbuilt. The report says that as the newest units hit the market in the next year, vacancy rates that currently sit at 6.2 percent will rise to as much as 8 percent.

The average rent in Charlotte stands at $874 per month, with one-bedroom units going for about $781, two bedrooms going for $891 and three bedrooms renting for about $1029. Same-store rents are expected to grow between 2 percent to 3 percent during the next year, but Real Data says increased competition for renters could hinder that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Could Stone Brewing choose Charlotte for East Coast brewery?

Hold onto your frosted mugs, beer lovers. Local economic development officials are lobbying to make Charlotte the site for California-based Stone Brewing Co.'s new East Coast brewery. Stone is the maker of such popular (and colorfully titled) beers as "Arrogant Bastard Ale" and the "Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA. The Charlotte Regional Partnership has launched a web site and a social media campaign (#StoneGoToCUSA) to tout several sites around the region, from Rowan to Lincoln to Gaston, as well as several in Mecklenburg.

Local Stone lovers haven't been sitting on the sidelines. They've launched a Facebook site that's gotten more than 1,100 "likes" in hopes of showing the brewery that Charlotte should be its new East Coast home.

There is competition, however. Escondido, Calif.-based Stone is the 10th largest craft brewer in the nation and the biggest in southern California. According to this story, other communities from around the Carolinas, including Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro and Florence, S.C. are all in pursuit of the plant, which could bring an estimated 370 jobs with wages ranging from $12 to $48 an hour. Capital expenditures for the new brewery are projected to exceed $20 million for the initial phase of the brewer's business plan, with revenue projected to exceed $100 million by the fourth year, according to Sam Boykin, spokesman for the partnership.

The company is looking to pick a site and begin construction this year. Asked how many other communities have replied to the brewer's request for proposals, company spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo declined to divulge a number. However, she added: "We definitely have seen quite a bit of interest and are pleased with the amount of proposals we've received."

According to the partnership, hundreds of other communities east of the Mississippi River have expressed interest. "It will take a special site to meet their requirements," Boykin wrote in an email, "and we're confident the Charlotte region is well-suited in terms of infrastructure, location and population density."

Monday, March 17, 2014

'Big data' firm opens headquarters in Packard Place uptown

Data archiving firm Infobelt announced Monday that the company has opened its new headquarters in Packard Place in uptown Charlotte.

The company said the new location gives it access to “like-minded, high-growth companies in the big data and information lifecycle management industries, as well as provides the infrastructure needed for further company growth.”

Infobelt specializes in intelligent archiving solutions that help regulated businesses reduce regulatory liability and save on infrastructure and storage costs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Developer Peter Pappas honored as SouthPark Citizen of the Year

Noted Charlotte real estate developer Peter A. Pappas, whose body of work includes some of Charlotte's best-known mixed-use real estate projects, was honored today by the Charlotte Chamber's SouthPark chapter as its 2014 SouthPark Citizen of the Year.

Pappas, founder and president of Pappas Properties, received the award during a luncheon at Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant in SouthPark Mall. Among those present to congratulate him were businessmen Nelson Schwab and Johnny Harris, former Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones and Charlotte Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble.

Peter A. Pappas
Chamber President Bob Morgan introduced Pappas by noting his role in helping develop signature high-end projects such as the Metropolitan, Birkdale Village, Phillips Place, the Berewick subdivision in southwest Charlotte and the Sharon Square neighborhood in SouthPark.

"Anything we do, we want it to be an asset to the community," said Pappas, who is also CEO of Terwilliger Pappas, a firm he formed with Ron Terwilliger last year to develop multifamily properties. "We want to be able to look back on it and say, 'This has added value.'"

Pappas joined Morgan for a question-and-answer session in which the developer talked about the evolution of SouthPark and trends in the real estate development industry. Asked by Morgan whether he sees any lessons to learned for SouthPark in the demise of Eastland Mall, Pappas said areas shouldn't be taken for granted just because they're successful.

"That doesn't mean we should quit investing in that area," he said.

After the luncheon, Schwab called Pappas "one of the most hard-working guys you'll ever meet." He added: I think by sheer hard work, grit and determination he gets things done that otherwise wouldn't get done. I think we're the beneficiary as a community of some great projects."

Pappas said he is honored to join Tim Belk of Belk Department Stores, Allen Tate of the Allen Tate realty firm, Piedmont Natural Gas CEO Thomas Skains and real estate developer Johnny Harris as recipients of the award.

"I'm truly flattered to be a part of that group," he said.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Four Southwest Charlotte commercial buildings sold

Four southwest Charlotte commercial buildings have sold for $11.1 million to Virginia-based Medalist Properties. The buildings, on Arrowridge Boulevard, represent about 200,000 square feet total, according to Trinity Partners, which represented the buildings’ owners, a Florida-based investor group.

Trinity Partners leased and managed the portfolio for the past eight years, and Medalist Properties has retained Trinity to continue leasing the buildings. Medalist has in-house property management services.

Trinity said the flex buildings – 8107, 8227, 8301, and 8041 Arrowridge Boulevard – benefit from a strong tenancy, including Hobart Corporation, Bonsal American, Sears Home Improvement, CentiMark Corporation, and Miller Electric Company. The properties are 83 percent occupied, outperforming the market’s 81 percent occupancy rate.

Trinity Partners' Dunn Mileham represented the buildings' owners.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Windstream opens new data center in Charlotte

Windstream Hosted Solutions, which provides cloud computing solutions and managed services for businesses, today announced the opening of its fourth data center in Charlotte. The company said the new data center, its 27th nationally, will be nearly 40,000 square feet, with the possibility to expand to 60,000 square feet. Windstream's clients include Belk and Bojangles.

"The greater Charlotte area has become a major enterprise data center hub with continued market growth expected," said Kelly Morgan, research manager at 451 Research. "Key sectors driving demand include financial services, transportation, healthcare, energy and education."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Japanese firm opens North American HQ in Charlotte

Yamada Dobby, a Japanese company that makes high-speed metal stamping presses, announced today that it has opened its new North American headquarters in Charlotte. The company, based near Nagoya, Japan, makes precision metal stamping presses for use in manufacturing electrical connectors, lead frames, motor cores and circuit boards.

The Charlotte Chamber said the company is looking to hire skilled mechanical and electrical field service technicians who can travel throughout North America to install and repair presses.

The chamber also announced today that an Austrian company that makes cutting, bending and seaming machines will open its first U.S. subsidiary in Charlotte. WUKO Maschinenbau will lease 2,500 square feet for sales and distribution. The company is starting with three employees and hopes to hire more in the next few years.

Monday, March 3, 2014

N.C. earns top 10 ranking for attracting corporations, jobs

The good news: Site Selection Magazine, a journal that tracks the fierce interstate competition for corporate relocations, expansions and jobs, says North Carolina ranks No. 7 among states for the number of corporate facility projects landed in 2013. The Tarheel state pulled in 223 projects meeting met Site Selection's criteria of involving one or more of the following: a minimum capital commercial investment of $1 million, 20,000 square feet or more of new construction or creation of 50 or more new jobs.

The bad news: oil-rich Texas, which topped the last, raked in 657 such projects -- nearly three times as many as North Carolina. The magazine awarded the Lone Star State its Governor's Cup. A second went to Nebraska, which had the most projects per capita at 109.

(Interestingly, South Carolina, which Gov. Pat McCrory and other N.C. officials are constantly eyeing as next-door competition, didn't make the top 10 of either list).