Feb 19, 2022 - Business

Employers are leaving Uptown for South End

LendingTree in South End

LendingTree headquarters at Vantage South End

From law firms to one of one most prominent commercial real estate firms in Charlotte, local employers are flocking from Uptown to South End.

Driving the news: Last week, Alston & Bird announced plans to move its 200+ employees to Vantage South End from One South at The Plaza, the Trade and Tryon tower formerly known as Bank of America Plaza. This is a major shift for the Atlanta law firm, which has been in Uptown for 25 years.

  • Alston & Bird’s Charlotte leadership had been contemplating what the future of their local office would look like since early 2020, said Jason Solomon, partner in charge of the Charlotte office. Then of course, the pandemic shifted how everyone at the firm worked.

When you want to bring people back into the office, Solomon told Axios, you want to do it in an area where they want to be. That’s why the firm selected South End, a walkable and buzzing area with new restaurants and bars, breweries, hip retail — amenities Uptown just doesn’t have.

“It’s not that Uptown isn’t vibrant, but it definitely doesn’t have the same energy and up-and-comingness, if you will, that South End has,” Solomon said.

Solomon sees the move as a recruiting advantage for Alston & Bird, too. It’ll be a place where people will want to come to work.

Why it matters: Alston & Bird is the latest in a wave of well-known employers to leave Uptown for South End, which is quickly becoming one of the most desirable office submarkets in the nation. Development in the area has boomed in the years since the opening of the Blue Line light rail.

  • Thousands of apartments have sprung up, and old warehouses have been converted into creative office space. The neighborhood has said goodbye to longtime tenants like Mr. K’s and Price’s amid rapid new development. National retailers like Lululemon and Madewell have opened up, and office towers are rapidly changing the area’s skyline.
  • At the same time, Uptown remains far quieter than it was pre-pandemic. In moving to South End, employers are seeking out a pedestrian-friendly, happening area with plenty to offer their workers.

By the numbers: Office space inventory in South End has soared to nearly 4.9 million square feet as of the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 2.7 million square feet at the same time in 2018, data from JLL show. At the same time, rent has also skyrocketed, rising to $42.10 per square foot from $34.43 three years prior.

These data underscore that, although South End office construction has occurred at a breakneck pace, the area still remains highly desirable.

Last year, Grant Thornton similarly signed a lease for Vantage South End. There, the accounting firm now takes up 31,600 square feet, or the entire fifth floor, of the property’s west tower.

  • Relocating to South End has been “ideal” for the company’s 400 Charlotte employees, according to Mike Desmond, Grant Thornton’s local office managing partner. The location makes sense geographically, he added, as it allows the firm to collaborate with clients in Uptown, the surrounding areas, and even South Carolina.

“The pandemic has taught us that the future of work will be flexible and we are embracing that future,” Desmond said. This means that the firm’s employees can handle meetings and day-to-day work either remotely or virtually.

“Our new Charlotte facility has turned out to be perfectly suited for this scenario, offering a range of collaborative spaces and amenities that fit into our people’s ‘work where you are’ mindsets,” he added.

Zoom out: Vantage South End, built by The Spectrum Cos., includes a pair of 11-story office towers at South Tryon Street and Carson Boulevard. One tower is the new home of LendingTree, which takes up floors 6-11. A growing number of popular local businesses are rounding out the ground-floor retail offerings, including Uptown Yolk and Good Wurst.

Another recent addition to Vantage South End? CBRE, the commercial real estate firm.

  • Earlier this month, the firm announced plans to relocate approximately 100 employees from Uptown into 24,535 square feet on the second floor of the east tower at Vantage South End. The move will take place in the fourth quarter of this year, per a statement from CBRE.

“Vantage South End will allow us to create a modern, healthy working environment that combines a variety of indoor and outdoor workspaces and access to the area’s best amenities,” said Compton Newman, managing director of CBRE’s Charlotte office.

Winstead, a Dallas-based corporate law firm that’s been in Charlotte for more than a decade, is also relocating into a 9,700-square-foot space at Vantage South End, CBJ reported months ago.

  • Local managing shareholder, Brian Short, cited South End’s “amenities and environment that provides the perfect marriage of work and lifestyle” as reason for the move.

“It’s a little bit counter-culture for a law firm to step out of city center,” said Solomon of Alston & Bird. “But I will guess we will not be the last law firm to make that move. I am sure others will follow.”

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