August 21, 2008Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC
New life for First Ward project
Daniel Levine makes pitch for $26 million in funding
Daniel Levine has a new plan for his key stretch of First Ward property. And, for the first time, the developer appears to have a key partner on board — taxpayers.
The massive project he unveiled to the city this week includes 2 million square feet of office space, 2,150 residential units and 282,000 square feet of shops and restaurants on 20 acres he controls.
Plans now call for a public investment of as much as $26 million in tax-increment financing from the city and county. The funding would pay for parking decks and other improvements. As much as $8 million more could be spent by the city for road improvements.
The county would also kick in the construction cost for a park of at least 3 acres.
“Our enthusiasm has never wavered,” says Levine, who has been pitching various development options for the site for a decade. “I am going to be excited when this moves from the drawing boards to breaking ground. We’re patient and we’re committed to bringing the best development to the city.”
A $46 million UNC Charlotte classroom building planned for the corner of East Ninth and North Brevard streets will anchor the initial phase. The school plans a 2011 opening and is also considering a second building in the project as it looks to grow its links with uptown’s business community.
The formal request for public money gives hope to political leaders and uptown boosters that Levine is serious this time. Real estate experts remain guarded, saying Levine’s past starts and stops have left them wary.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says John Lassiter, chairman of Charlotte City Council’s economic development committee. Adds Jim Palermo, executive-in-residence at Johnson & Wales University and a longtime uptown advocate: “Daniel has had a number of renderings and plans in the past 10 years. It’s a great plan if, in fact, he does it.”
The complex deal still has a long way to go before it becomes reality. Next week, Mecklenburg County commissioners get their first extensive look at the proposal. If commissioners approve further talks, more details must be hammered out, starting with land appraisals for a property swap between the developer and the county.
City staff hopes to have a final deal for council to consider by year end. The county would likely puruse a similar schedule. Construction on Levine’s first phase of development, dependent upon county agreement for a park and tax-increment financing for 1,300 of nearly 2,000 new parking spaces in First Ward, could begin in 2009.
In all, Levine anticipates a 10- to 15-year schedule for building out all of the First Ward land. The county park, UNCC, underground parking and a 300,000- to 400,000-square-foot office building would be built first.
Levine will build the office building with ground-floor retail. Next up would be a 1,500-car parking deck and a property encompassing 525 residential units, a hotel and street-level retail.
Talks gained momentum during the past three months, as stakeholders gathered to discuss possibilities and negotiate the framework of a deal. What emerged mirrors several other high-profile public-private ventures assembled in recent years in and around uptown.
•A $1.3 billion South Tryon Street complex anchored by Wachovia Corp. and several arts venues.
•The $225 million Metropolitan shopping, office and residential complex in midtown.
•Merrifield Partners’ Bryant Park project near Wilkinson Boulevard anchored by the Charlotte School of Law.
•Grubb Properties’ mix of offices, shops and restaurants in the Elizabeth neighborhood near Presbyterian Hospital.
In each case, substantial contributions for parking decks and other improvements near the projects were — or will be — paid for with city and county money.
Levine credits the city and county for working with him while also negotiating a deal “that puts all the risk in the private sector.”Lynnsy Logue The Real Estate Lady and Condo CanDo in Charlotte, NC
Photo of Daniel Levine by Nancy Pierce