Jan 10, 2024 - Business

Living in an office tower and other creative uses for underused Uptown high-rises

526 S College

Imagine walking into a building in Uptown that decades ago was built for office workers. But instead of cubicles and cavernous atriums, you find plush apartments, a welcoming outdoor plaza, a huge modernized gym or even a spacious child-care facility.

Driving the news: Charlotte Center City Partners and the firm CBI on Wednesday morning announced the winners of their Reimagining Vintage Office Design Competition, which challenged the community to think of ways to transform outdated offices in Uptown into efficient, fresh new uses.

Why it matters: Like other major metros, Charlotte has a glut of unused or underused office space in its center city thanks to the work-from-home policies the pandemic prompted.

  • Left unaddressed, these empty office spaces are a drag on the city. City leaders say vacant office spaces in Uptown adversely impact tax revenues and diminish the value of the neighborhood, as Axios’ Alexandria Sands reported.

By the numbers: The Uptown office vacancy rate is 18.5%. Vacancies in a “stabilized market” should be around 7%-10%, Alex reported.

Between the lines: Successful conversion projects ultimately will likely include both involvement from the local government and property owners, developers and other parties. For instance, Charlotte could consider incentives or tax abatements for such projects, per CCCP.

  • “There’s going to have to be this interweaving of public solutions and private solutions,” CCCP CEO Michael Smith Said.

What they’re saying: “We’re not trying to convert all office (space) in Uptown, but we believe intentional investments can make a really big difference,” James LaBar, Center City Partners’ economic development director, tells Axios.

  • Smart investments in innovative solutions, LaBar said, could solidify tax revenues and positively impact the value of the neighborhood.
  • CCCP’s competition focused on properties considered “vintage,” or older buildings with higher vacancy rates because their tenants have left for newer, fancier properties in areas like South End.

Of note: The winning teams receive $15,000 each. The next two highest submittals receive $2,500 each.

Here are the winners. Details are via CCCP:

Winning proposal 1

Winners: Asana Partners, SK+I, MRP Realty

Address: Brooklyn & Church — 526 S. Church St.

Proposal: This project includes converting Duke Energy’s former headquarters, built in the 1970s, into hundreds of apartment units and tens of thousands of square feet of retail.

Of note: This development is already happening. Asana managing director Welch Liles tells Axios the firm is “fine-tuning our design” and will have an updated timeline to share in the coming weeks.

Winning proposal 2

Winners: Childress Klein, Cushman & Wakefield, Archer Western, Progressive AE 

Address: 301 S College St.

Proposal: This proposal includes refreshing One Wells Fargo Center, a 42-story office tower that’s Charlotte’s third-largest office building and home to the Childress-Klein YMCA. It includes engaging the street level with a new lobby, converting several floors to housing, reconfiguring some of the existing office floors to create more leasable space and adding a multi-level urban plaza. The project would maintain the Y and include a child-care center — a major draw to bring young workers to Uptown, per LaBar.

Runner-up 1

Proposal team: Balfour Beatty and Perkins&Will

Address: First Citizens Plaza building at South Tryon and W. 4th St.

Proposal: This project proposes converting an old, smaller office building into a multi-functional space with a health and wellness center, a civic area with a public plaza, plus a market and coffee shop/restaurant.

Runner-up 2

Proposal team: Gresham Smith, DPR Construction, Do Greater Charlotte

Address: 500 N Tryon St.

Proposal: This proposal includes converting the expansive old offices into Do Greater Creative Lab Center City, a co-working space and production studio supporting entrepreneurs of color.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with details about public-private partnerships and to include an architect on the winning team.

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