Vertical mixed-use development to bring AC Hotel, office space to Ballantyne Village

A tower that will rise above most of Ballantyne has begun construction.

Charlotte-based Panorama Holdings last week broke ground on a 14-story, vertical mixed-use development that will include a 186-room AC Hotel by Marriott, nearly 100,000 square feet of office space and a rooftop restaurant and bar in one building at 14819 Ballantyne Village Way. The project, Panorama Tower, is expected to deliver in early 2021.

Jane Wu, president of Panorama Holdings, said her firm has been interested in doing a project in the Ballantyne area for some time, believing there's demand for new office space and hotel rooms.

"It will be nice for the tenants to have something more trendy, more modern," Wu said, adding the goal is to create space that coworking and similar types of tenants gravitate to — notably, Ballantyne is one of the few office submarkets in Charlotte that doesn't have a major coworking group. Wu said the office space could accommodate one single tenant or multiple companies.

The office space will sit above the hotel floors. Floorplates for the office portion will measure about 20,000 square feet and the space will include 13-foot ceiling heights and more than 3,000 square feet of board and meeting room space.

Panorama Tower will include a 186-room AC Hotel.

Panorama Tower will include a 186-room AC Hotel.

Panorama Tower is expected to deliver in early 2021.

Panorama Tower is expected to deliver in early 2021.

Business entitles affiliated with Panorama Holdings have acquired three contiguous tracts at Ballantyne Village — the parking deck at the hard corner of Ballantyne Village Way and Costigan Lane, a 0.6-acre lot at 14819 Ballantyne Village Way and a 0.5-acre lot at 14805 Ballantyne Village Way. The land, which sits on the southwest portion of the Ballantyne Village block, was acquired in multiple transactions for about $6.7 million total.

American Realty Advisors and Stonemar Properties continue to own Ballantyne Village, which they purchased in 2017 for $43.2 million.

Vertical mixed-use development is a markedly new product for Ballantyne, an area dominated by a corporate park developed and owned by The Bissell Cos. in the 1990s up until 2017, when those holdings — including 4.1 million square feet of office space, four hotels and undeveloped land — were sold to Northwood Investors in a blockbuster real estate deal.

Northwood Office recently unveiled a vision plan that would dramatically reimagine Ballantyne — plans include redeveloping the golf course, adding high-rise apartment towers, retail space and public amenities like food truck courts and an amphitheater. It's a new look for a suburban part of town known for mid-rise, single-use corporate headquarters buildings and The Ballantyne, a prestigious hotel and resort.

Northwood is also underway on a new office tower, an 11-story, 328,000-square-foot building at 13146 Ballantyne Corporate Place that's markedly different from the existing office inventory.

Wu said what Northwood has on the drawing boards for Ballantyne combined with the existing caliber of office space and tenants in the area helped give her company the confidence in market demand at Ballantyne Village, which today contains mostly retail and some office space and sits adjacent to the corporate park. Wu said Panorama will add levels to the parking deck in Ballantyne Village to accommodate hotel guests and office tenants.

Wu said Ballantyne is currently lacking "something in between" The Ballantyne and the three limited-service hotels in the corporate park.

"(The AC Hotel) is a lifestyle hotel, really trendy and modern," Wu said, adding the brand is also big on social spaces, an appealing aspect for her firm's vision for the tower.

This will be the third AC Hotel in Charlotte, following one that opened in uptown at the EpiCentre last year and another under construction in SouthPark that's scheduled to open this fall.

A concept hasn't been decided for the rooftop restaurant yet but the goal is to get something "very, very different" from what's already in Ballantyne, Wu said.

Panorama's most recent major real estate development in Charlotte — Blu at Northline, an apartment project in University City — was built with EB-5 funding, a federal program that allows immigrant investors to secure a green card by investing in businesses or projects in the U.S. For Panorama Tower, Wu said a very limited amount of EB-5 funding was used, with most of the financing in other equity sources and a construction loan.

Charley Leavitt and Alex Mann at JLL are leasing Panorama Tower. The RBA Group is the project architect. Orsborn Engineering is the project engineer. Design Force will handle interior design of the AC Hotel. Archer Western is the general contractor. Concord Hospitality will manage the hotel for Panorama. JLL is serving as project manager.

The land where Panorama Tower will be developed sits on the southwest portion of the Ballantyne Village block. It was acquired in multiple transactions for about $6.7 million total.

The land where Panorama Tower will be developed sits on the southwest portion of the Ballantyne Village block. It was acquired in multiple transactions for about $6.7 million total.

Hotel demand, revenue slips for Charlotte's most lucrative annual tourism event

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Maybe fans of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament are ready to go someplace other than Charlotte. The city’s top tourism executive mentioned that possibility on Thursday afternoon while discussing initial, partial results for area hotels during the tournament compiled by industry tracker STR.

Those figures show double-digit declines in hotel revenue for the busiest days of tournament week, Wednesday through Saturday. Sales at uptown hotels declined 12.2%; countywide, the drop from 2018 totaled 15.1%.

Demand for rooms and average rates also declined in uptown and across Mecklenburg County. The tournament started Feb. 25 and ended March 2. 

Charlotte has hosted the CIAA men’s and women’s tournaments, played the same week in the same city, since 2006. In January, the conference disclosed plans to relocate the tournament to Baltimore for three years beginning in 2021.

Tom Murray, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said that while the CIAA “still had a huge impact,” ticket sales and hotel bookings have trended downward in recent years. He added that the slip “is not dramatic” but has been pretty consistent.

And he said that fans’ interest in a rotation of sites — similar to what the CIAA did for much of its history before coming to Charlotte — may have influenced member schools’ vote to go to Baltimore. Charlotte’s final run as tournament host, at least for now, is in 2020.

For the 2018 tournament, hotel room bookings increased 8.4% uptown and 8.6% throughout Mecklenburg compared with the previous year, according to STR. Even so, direct spending on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and other expenses, as measured by the visitors authority, declined in 2016 and 2017 and could do so again this year. The visitors authority is conducting a fan survey and study of visitors spending from the 2019 CIAA Tournament that will be released later this year.

In a statement prepared for CBJ, CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said of the decline in hotel demand and revenue, “The CIAA Men’s and Women’s Tournament was a success this year and attendance to both the games and community events remained consistent with 2018 numbers. We haven’t yet completed our surveys regarding travel and hotel stay, so any information I provide is speculative. ... The good news is that our CIAA fans were here and the city as a whole has benefited from three entertainment-based basketball events this year.”

The commissioner also noted that the NBA All-Star Game, held in Charlotte in mid-February, may have affected the CIAA’s numbers this year.

McWilliams has said for years that hotel rates in and around uptown are too expensive. One of the most important selling points for choosing Baltimore as the future home of the CIAA was the city’s commitment to provide hotels at an average rate of less than $200 per room, well below Charlotte’s prices most years.

The number of hotels continues to grow in uptown and Mecklenburg. There are 5,601 rooms uptown and 27,312 in the county, compared with 5,300 and 26,500 a year ago.

Murray pointed out that, including the most recent decline, prices have gone down three consecutive years. The problem is those lower rates resulted from less demand, meaning hotels suffered a double-whammy. The visitors authority said it did not have all of the figures for actual rates and rooms occupied but plans to disclose those, when available, in the near future.

“Talking with the hotels, attendance was a little lighter than previous years,” Charlotte Area Hotel Association executive director Vince Chelena said. “But it was still a great tournament and there were still a lot of people here.”

Chelena added that the numbers could be skewed from 2018 because Rev. Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte occurred during CIAA Tournament week.

There are 13 historically black colleges and universities in the CIAA, including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. A majority of the schools are located in the Carolinas.

For the past three years, the tournament has been split between Bojangles’ Coliseum and the Spectrum Center uptown. Capacity at the uptown arena was reduced by nearly half — to 11,000 seats — in 2018 with price freezes and more general admission seating to boost ticket sales. 

The CIAA is as much a party scene and reunion hub as it is a basketball tournament. Those traits have helped make the tournament Charlotte’s most lucrative recurring tourism event.

McWilliams said during the 2019 tournament that, wherever the CIAA is, the league needs help from its host city to encourage fans who come to town to buy and use their tickets.

Last year, the CIAA said 131,000 visitors came to Charlotte for the tournament, but cumulative attendance at the games was 73,343. The latter figure represented a 5.8% gain over 2017. Visitor and game attendance figures have not been released by the CIAA for 2019.

Murray and Chelena said the initial figures would not discourage the city from trying to bring back the tournament. Mohammad Jenatian of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance recently told CBJhis goal is to have it in Charlotte from 2024 through 2030. 

James Mitchell, a City Council Democrat who leads the economic development committee, sharply criticized the city’s most recent CIAA bid and has called for greater oversight of future bids. The visitors authority assembled and submitted the bid last year with assistance from local government.

Direct spending fluctuated between $27 million and $32.2 million between 2015 and 2018, with larger spinoff totals of $47.4 million to $57.4 million during that period. Economists’ opinions vary widely on the benefits of sporting events and conventions, something to keep in mind when industry-commissioned figures are mentioned.

Conference and Charlotte organizers have collaborated in recent years to tighten permitting rules in an effort to reduce violence at unsanctioned CIAA events. Between 2014 and 2017, several widely reported shootings, stabbings and other incidents at CIAA-themed concerts and parties caused safety concerns. Later this year, a Memphis, Tennessee rapper who is accused of participating in a shooting incident that included 100 bullets fired near the arena on the night of the 2017 CIAA championship game will go to trial, The Charlotte Observer reported.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, in its summary of the CIAA tournament, said there were no arrests made at any conference-sanctioned events this year. At unsanctioned CIAA events, 20 people were arrested and 10 guns were seized. A shooting occurred at 1:15 a.m. on March 3, hours after the championship game ended, at an uptown hotel near the arena. Two people, including the suspect, were shot but survived. The police said the “male suspect ... was not a guest at the hotel.” 

CMPD Lt. Brad Koch said that because the shooting “stemmed from a disagreement between individuals that were in a hotel room, it is not considered CIAA-related.”

Uptown hotel preps for multimillion-dollar renovation

This uptown hotel intends to revamp its 700 guest rooms later this year.

The Westin Charlotte expects to choose from two potential model rooms in the near future. 

That decision will be made in conjunction with ownership and the Westin design team with a focus on protecting the integrity of the brand and quality, says Leo Percopo, area general manager.

The last time the guest rooms received an overhaul was in 2010.

“There’s obviously tremendous return on a brand new guest room,” Percopo says.

Rooms will be revamped with a reflection on personal wellness. Expect soothing and relaxing colors and bathrooms with walk-in showers.

“I think it’s going to be very well received," he says.

Percopo said it’s too early to comment on further details until a model room is chosen as well as ballpark costs for the project.

“It’s going to be in the many millions,” he adds.

Construction could start as early as July. 

“Our goal is to be finished in March 2020,” Percopo says.

That timing coincides with expansion plans at the Charlotte Convention Center. Plans call for a $100 million expansion project to begin this spring.

“That’s really why we selected the dates we did,” he says.

The Westin has been working on revamping its restaurants, bars and meeting space in recent years. That includes a new ballroom in January 2018 as well as its 615 meeting area, located in the office building next door. 

615 offers 4,000 square feet of unique meeting space for events and weddings as well as extension of outdoor space.

Report: $1.7B in investment underway now in Charlotte's center city

The 2010s is now the most prolific decade when it comes to new office construction in Charlotte's center city.

Though that might hardly be surprising to some, it only passed the 5.3 million-square-foot mark previously set in the 2000s within the last year, speaking to the delay of major office projects breaking ground in this cycle. But, so far, 6.1 million square feet of office space is expected to deliver in the center city in the 2010s and, as of December 2018, Charlotte was the fifth busiest CBD in the U.S. for office construction.

Those statistics come from Charlotte Center City Partners' 2019 State of the Center City, a research and economic development report put out annually by the organization. The report — which includes uptown, South End, West End and midtown as part of center city — evaluates what's changed since the previous year with data on development, transportation and other metrics driving center city.

"I think about what an exciting time it is to be in the city-building business in Charlotte during this period of our history," said Michael Smith, president and CEO of CCCP. "You see the world pivoting towards re-urbanization, and Charlotte spent four decades preparing for it. We’re uniquely positioned to receive it."

Some other numbers to chew on as it relates to growth and development in Charlotte's center city:

  • $1.7 billion in investment is under construction currently

  • Planned or under construction:

  • 6.9 million square feet of office space

  • 8,458 residential units

  • 2,310 hotel rooms

  • 948,167 square feet of retail

  • Nearly 15,000 tech workers moved to Charlotte between 2011-16

  • Average uptown apartment rent is $2.05 per square foot

  • Average South End apartment rent is $1.83 per square foot

In an expansion cycle that started out with a lot of new apartment construction — which continues today, though it's tempered a bit in the urban core compared to two or more years ago — office has pushed ahead to become the major commercial real estate player in the past couple of years, with projects like Bank of America Tower, Duke Energy's 1 million-square-foot building pegged across Tryon Street from its headquarters, Ally Charlotte Center, FNB Tower-Charlotte and a Deloitte-anchored building among the office developments planned or underway now — and that's just in uptown. South End has seen its own discovery of office development, with several such buildings in the works or under construction.

"The vibrancy of our entire region begins and ends with jobs, and everything else we’re doing is in response to that," Smith said.

A number of hotels are also either in planning or underway today in center city, with three alone on Stonewall Street (the Home2 Suites by Hilton and Even Hotel at Stonewall and Caldwell streets in addition to the JW Marriott at the Ally Charlotte Center site a few blocks down). South End will see its first hotel open this year, the Holiday Inn Express on South Tryon Street, between Kingston and Park avenues.

But with enormous growth comes cost — rental rates across all sectors are rising and, particularly as it relates to residential, continue to create challenges around affordable housing.

Part of a recent affordable-housing commitment by Ally Financial, Barings and Bank of America includes the donation of two land parcels (worth a little more than $7 million) in uptown Charlotte to build housing with income-restricted units. Part of the push by Charlotte City Council and others who work on affordable housing locally is building or preserving affordable units in areas in and around uptown that are in proximity to jobs and mass transit.

Smith said CCCP is involved in affordable-housing discussions locally and said some recommendations from the Evergreen report, which CCCP was involved in, remain to be done locally.

"We need thought leadership to stay on top of this and pull all of the housing initiatives together," he said, adding that he looked forward to Local Initiatives Support Corp. opening an office in Charlotte. LISC, a nonprofit based in New York, has been tapped to lead the strategy for how money from the Foundation For The Carolinas' housing fund for affordable housing will be spent and may act in an advisory role for public affordable-housing dollars as well, though City Council ultimately makes those final decisions.

On an office market basis, though, Smith said Charlotte continues to be competitive compared to peer markets in rental rates, which will continue to draw institutional investors.

One market sector that hasn't come back since the last decade: condos. There have been a handful of small, high-end condo projects in areas like Myers Park and Eastover but, unlike the last cycle, no condo towers have come out of the ground in uptown.

Smith said a mix of market, structural and macro economic factors are contributing to that.

"Right now, institutional money lines up for multifamily, the apartments," Smith said.

Finally, 2019 is the last year of this decade, so CCCP and others will be gearing up to develop a new vision plan that looks ahead over the next decade and beyond, Smith said, a process that's been done every 10 years since the Odell plan in 1966. That work will begin this year and go into 2020.

"We change with the economy and with politics and philosophy and pop culture and everything — that’s why it’s so important to check in and do some course correction every 10 years," Smith said.

View the full article here

A look at how Charlotte's hotel market performed in 2018- and what is forecast in the year ahead

The Charlotte hotel industry posted small gains in three key performance metrics in 2018, according to year-end figures recently released by travel data and analytics firm STR.

Within those three metrics: occupancy, average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR), which is calculated by dividing total room revenue by the total number of available rooms, Charlotte-area hotels saw year-over-year increases of 0.5%, 0.6% and 1.1%, respectively, in 2018. Hotel occupancy averaged 69.8% to end the year, while ADR reached an average of $110.24 and RevPar grew to $76.99.

Charlotte's hotel occupancy exceeded the national rate of 66.2%, which represented year-over-year growth of 0.5%. The national ADR of $129.83 (up 2.4%) and the RevPar of $85.96 (up 2.9%), though, was higher than Charlotte's.

However, annual growth in both supply and demand in the Charlotte market in 2018 eclipsed the national increases of 2% and 2.5%, respectively, according to STR's data, which for the Charlotte market, encompasses the central business district and surrounding areas such as Gastonia, Lincolnton, Rock Hill, Matthews, Monroe, Huntersville, Cornelius, Concord and Salisbury. Mooresville and Statesville are not included in STR's coverage area for the local market.

A look at supply and demand in Charlotte's hotel market shows the two growing at somewhat similar paces last year. Demand growth, at 3.9%, slightly outpaced supply's 3.3% uptick from 2017 to 2018.

Among the hotels to open in Charlotte last year was the long-anticipated, dual-branded AC Hotel and Residence Inn above the EpiCentre in uptown.

Charlotte saw double-digit growth in demand just one month last year: October. Then, it jumped 10.1% from the previous year. Another likely spike in demand is on the horizon for 2019, when the upcoming NBA All-Star Game comes to town next month.

The graphs below provide a look even further back at Charlotte's hotel performance, over the past five years.

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For the overall U.S. hotel sector, 2018 represented a "good, not great year," said Amanda Hite, STR's president and CEO.

Charlotte's tepid results last year come amid a good number of local hotel projects still in the construction pipeline.

CBRE (NYSE: CBRE), in its recent 2019 outlook on Charlotte's hotel market, said hotel construction in Charlotte "remains strong."

As of September 2018, it said that 44 such properties — to add 5,374 new rooms — were either under construction or in the final planning stages in the Charlotte market. That represents a little more than 15% of the current local inventory.

The majority of those projects — 31 — are considered to be upper-midscale or upscale. That includes the 254-room, 15-floor Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte now underway in uptown's Third Ward and a 21-story, 381-room JW Marriott hotel coming to a bustling corridor of uptown. Even more recently announced is a 175-room hotel for SouthPark, expected to carry the Hyatt Centric upscale flag.

But CBRE noted that the growth rate for revenue per available room is now much lower than the 14.1% increase posted in 2014.

"This drop in RevPAR (revenue per available room) growth has coincided with a large jump in supply changes, increasing from 1.1% year-over-year growth in 2016 to 5.7% in 2017. On the other hand, the current drop in RevPAR has been driven entirely by declines in occupancy, with ADR (average daily rate) growth remaining strong, 3.4% in 2017," the CBRE report said.

And supply is expected to outpace demand in Charlotte's hotel market this year.

"Although demand, driven by a growing population and tech sector economy, will remain strong in Charlotte, the market is forecast to weather even higher supply growth and declining occupancy for the foreseeable future," CBRE said.

CBRE's research anticipates that Charlotte's hotel supply will increase by 5.6% in 2019 "amid a national economic slowdown that will likely dampen demand."

As a result of that, a further slowdown in revenue per available room is forecast in the year ahead.

Tourism board leader 'confident' in quality of Charlotte CIAA bid

An attempt to ease tensions last week by the leader of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority Board over an unsuccessful bid to keep a college basketball tournament resulted in a second round of rebukes from the head of the City Council’s economic development committee. 

Earlier this month, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association disclosed plans to move its annual tournament to Baltimore in 2021, prompting council Democrat James Mitchell and other prominent African-Americans to question whether the Charlotte bid was competitive. The CIAA Tournament generated $29 million in visitor spending in 2018 and $50.5 million in over all economic benefit, according to figures compiled by the visitors authority.

Charlotte’s bid for the 2021-23 tournaments totaled $2.6 million per year, including waived rental fees at city-owned buildings. Baltimore has yet to publicly disclose its bid, but CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams told CBJ earlier this month the proposal was worth $3.5 million.

Mitchell called Charlotte’s pitch “piss-poor” and promised to propose requirements for increased council oversight of bids for major tourism events. Tom Murray, CEO of the visitors authority, has said the tournament likely moved because the conference’s board wanted to have the event rotate among multiple cities rather than stay in one place. Murray has said the visitors authority wants to bring the CIAA back and will pursue the tournament during the next bid cycle in 2022. 

Known as the CIAA, the conference is made up of 13 historically black colleges (12 as of next summer), including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. The CIAA Tournament first came to Charlotte in 2006 — and has been here ever since. When the six-year contract signed in 2014 ends next year, the tournament will have been here 15 years, becoming the city’s most lucrative annual tourism event along the way.

On Jan. 8, the conference announced it would be taking the tournament to Baltimore for three years starting in 2021. Charlotte and Norfolk, Virginia, were the other bidders.

Responding to Mitchell’s criticism of the visitors authority, the tourism agency responsible for assembling the CIAA bid, last week board chair Tracy Montross sent an email defending the bid to Mayor Vi Lyles and all 11 council members. Montross, who is also regional director of government affairs at American Airlines, wrote that the board “was confident in both the bid’s competitiveness and the many perspectives that had been taken into account in shaping its contents.”

Montross leads the 13-member board. The mayor selects four board members; council chooses nine.

“We are confident that Charlotte’s determination will yield even more opportunities that the CRVA and our Board of Directors are proud to pursue on behalf of the Charlotte region, including hosting the NAACP’s Convention in 2021,” Montross wrote in the Jan. 16 email. “We also eagerly look forward to submitting a bid for the CIAA tournament to return to Charlotte in 2024.”

Mitchell responded later the same day with an email enumerating his concerns about the bid, including what he believed to be a low-ball pledge for scholarship donations to the CIAA ($1.5 million, less than the $2 million “I have always advocated for”), lack of corporate support and an attempt to reduce the number of tournament games played in the uptown NBA arena.

“Thank you for informing the Mayor & City Council that the CRVA Board was engaged in the CIAA bid proposal,” Mitchell wrote to Montross. “This is very disappointing that with the Board engagement the CRVA still submitted a ‘piss-poor’ bid.”

After describing his misgivings with various elements of the bid, Mitchell took issue with Montross mentioning the NAACP convention coming to Charlotte in 2021.

“Lastly, it is insulting to me for you to make reference to the NAACP Convention in 2021 in Charlotte during this discussion,” Mitchell wrote. “The pursuit (of the NAACP) was underway before we submitted our ‘piss-poor’ bid. This one event in 2021, cannot replace the economic impact of the CIAA tournament.”

This is an election year for council members. Mitchell is in his second term as an at-large member and, prior to that, won seven terms as a district representative.

Montross knows city government well, having served as chief of staff to then-Mayor Anthony Foxx from 2011 to 2013.

Of the tournament’s imminent departure, Montross wrote, “We are all incredibly disappointed to learn the news of the CIAA selection (Jan. 8) and the loss of this valuable piece of business, as it’s been a defining event for our city and a bedrock for our tourism industry ...”

Former state Sen. Malcolm Graham, who was a council member when Charlotte wooed the CIAA from Raleigh, told me that he, too, thought the city failed to appreciate the importance of keeping the tournament.

Dimple Ajmera, a council Democrat, said the emphasis now must be on making sure the tournament returns. Few other events could match the CIAA Tournament when it comes to filling hotels and restaurants on a yearly basis in late-February.

“CIAA is an asset to our community and I want to do everything in my power to bring it back,” she said. Beyond the jobs helped or created by basketball fans coming to town for the tournament, Ajmera said there is an intangible cultural loss, too.

Vincent Chelena, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, responded to criticism by Mitchell for increased scrutiny and control over visitors authority bids as “unwarranted and shortsighted.” Losing the CIAA is disappointing, Chelena said, but not a sign of weakness for the industry as a whole.

“We are a thriving destination city that happens to be in high demand,” Chelena said in a response sent to CBJ after reports of dissension over the tournament bid. “Developers seem to think so. There are 41 new hotels either under construction or in the planning stages right now in metro Charlotte.”

The 2019 CIAA Tournament tips off in Charlotte on Feb. 25 and ends March 2.

Read the full article here

CIAA Tournament leaving Charlotte after current contract ends

Charlotte’s most lucrative recurring tourism event will leave town in 2020, a member of City Council and others said Monday. Beginning in 2021, Baltimore will host the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament for three years, various media reports and industry sources said. 

The conference tournament came here in 2006 and grew into an event worth $50 million annually, according to figures compiled by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Last year, the week-long men’s and women’s tournament, split between Bojangles’ Coliseum and Spectrum Center, brought 131,000 visitors to town while generating $29 million in spending by fans on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and other expenses.

“I think the conference is looking for, just possibly, a different location,” councilman Justin Harlow, a Democrat, said Monday night. “I think we put in a good bid. Besides that, we were unable to land it.”

Harlow, a member of the council’s economic development committee, said Charlotte remains “a great convention city” while conceding, “it’s going to be a loss — we’ve got to do our job and look to replace it.”

Historically black colleges and universities make up the CIAA, including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. Nine of the 13 member schools are located in the Carolinas.

Without a definitive statement from the CIAA, some council members brushed aside interview requests prior to the council strategy meeting Monday at the Government Center. Mayor Vi Lyles, eyeing reporters and TV cameras in the hallway, walked past and offered impromptu advice while declining comment.

“Talk to the CIAA,” the mayor said.

The city and the conference signed a six-year contract extension in 2014 to keep the CIAA Tournament here through 2020. Local subsidies total $2 million annually, including discounted or free rental rates for city-owned buildings such as the convention center and the two arenas. 

Republican councilman Tariq Bokhari spoke to reporters Monday about the CIAA, declining to confirm whether a decision on its future had been made while emphasizing the event’s importance to the local economy.

“While we haven’t been given an answer, that’s something that is going to make an impact on the bottom line — and not in a good way,” Bokhari said of reports the tournament is leaving. “My hope is we continue to have a partnership and relationship with the organization over time and see what they have to say.”

As successful as the CIAA has been, it’s also faced scrutiny over shootings and other public safety concerns tied to incidents during tournament week. In each case, the violence stemmed from tournament-themed parties and events that weren’t sanctioned by the conference. 

Council and the city last year approved tightened standards for large parties and other events during the CIAA Tournament and other high-profile tourism events in an attempt to eliminate, or at least reduce, safety concerns.

At the same time, conference and school executives and fans fumed over an incident in 2015 when the Ritz-Carlton charged CIAA fans a 15% fee on food and drink served in the lobby during tournament week — a fee not charged during NCAA basketball tournament weekends or other special events in Charlotte.

The hotel eventually refunded the surcharges and donated $75,000to the CIAA. Conference and tournament organizers have battled what they consider exorbitant hotel room rates throughout the event’s run here.

Ray McKinnon, an African-American pastor and activist, alluded to racial tension and disparity in a tweet Monday after news surfaced about the CIAA’s exit.

“This might be what we get when we treat the attendees of this tournament like a marauding horde,” McKinnon wrote.

Neither the city nor the conference confirmed the decision, but the CIAA is expected to disclose plans Tuesday morning to move the tournament. 

Last year, the conference solicited bids for the tournament in 2021, 2022 and 2023. The CIAA considered bids from Baltimore, Charlotte and cities in Virginia. A decision was originally anticipated last month.

The CIAA ranks as one of the most successful and lucrative college basketball tournaments in the nation despite the fact that the conference competes in the lower-tier Division II. Alumni reunions, fashion and step shows, band and dance competitions and a history of cultural cachet long ago turned tournament week into a see-and-be-seen affair.

Even so, the party scene has, at times, overshadowed the main event: basketball. CIAA executives slashed ticket prices, reduced capacity at Spectrum Center and began using the much smaller Bojangles’ Coliseum for early-round games in an attempt to boost ticket sales and improve attendance.

The current contract with Charlotte included inducements to move the conference’s headquarters office to Charlotte from Virginia. That happened in 2015 and, to date, local incentives for the relocation total $171,000, including discounted office rent.

Mohammad Jenatian, head of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance, told me Monday he had yet to be told the tournament is leaving. Jenatian called the CIAA a “great partner” and credited the tournament with proving Charlotte’s ability to stage major events.

Without the CIAA, Charlotte would not have hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention — or convinced the Republican National Committee to bring its national convention here next year, he said. 

Some in Charlotte see hope for the CIAA to return despite the tournament’s imminent departure.

“This is an event we should continue to go after,” councilman Harlow said. “It consistently has been a great event despite some issues over the past couple of years. (There’s) definitely a huge base of alumni here for Johnson C. Smith and other CIAA schools. I think we can do a better job in the future of promoting the games and putting less focus on the other social events. We’ll probably, definitely be putting in a bid in the next couple of years after the Baltimore contract ends.”

SouthPark site to include hotel with upscale flag new to Charlotte

A 175-room hotel with an upscale flag new to Charlotte will be part of a larger mixed-use development underway now in SouthPark.

Beacon Investment Management Group, a Charlotte-based hospitality developer and owner, will build a proposed Hyatt Centric hotel at the Apex SouthPark site, at the corner of Morrison Boulevard and Sharon Road. The redevelopment of that site, the former Sharon United Methodist Church, is being led by Charlotte-based Childress Klein and Ascentris, a real estate private equity firm based in Denver.

"(Hyatt Centric) is a unique product that we think fits really well into SouthPark because it (will be) so localized," said Nish Patel, president of Beacon IMG. "The interior design, food offerings ... we think it’ll fit really well in SouthPark."

The hotel flag is still being finalized, Patel said. Beacon IMG expects to begin to lay the foundation for the $50 million hotel by August of this year, with anticipated completion in early 2021, he added.

Under the name SouthPark Hotel LLC, Beacon IMG paid $7 million for a 0.7-acre portion of the Apex SouthPark site in August, according to Mecklenburg County real estate records.

Hyatt Centric is a newer, upper-upscale flag of Hyatt Hotels Corp. (NYSE: H). Hyatt currently has about two dozen Centric hotels open, with at least another 18 in the pipeline internationally. Hyatt says each Centric hotel is "highly customizable" and are designed specifically for the locales they are built in.

Patel said the proposed SouthPark Hyatt Centric will also include a rooftop restaurant operated by a third party and a coffee concept, both of which will be in addition to the larger mixed-use development by Childress Klein and Ascentris. That joint venture is developing two 12-story buildings with 345 apartments and almost 90,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space on site.

Beacon IMG is the latest player to enter the SouthPark hotel submarket, which has at least two other hotels under construction or planned in the coming years — a 150-room Canopy by Hilton behind Fairview Towers and an AC Hotel at Rexford and Roxborough roads, adjacent to the existing Charlotte Marriott SouthPark.

Patel said the Hyatt Centric flag will also offer something new for the SouthPark area and that his group feels confident in the submarket.

"We’re not short-term investors ... we’re investing in SouthPark long term and we believe in the area," Patel said.

Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio is the project architect. JE Dunn Construction is the general contractor. Bohler Engineering is the civil engineer, and Stanley D. Lindsey & Associates is the structural engineer.

Development group closes on uptown land where hotel will rise

A hotel group has closed on land in uptown Charlotte where it will build the city's first JW Marriott.

Marlotte Hotel LLC, affiliated with Indiana-based White Lodging, paid $6.3 million for a portion of the block where Ally Charlotte Center is under construction. White Lodging is building a 21-story, 381-room JW Marriott hotel at the corner of Stonewall and College streets as part of the mixed-use development, which also includes the 26-story Ally Charlotte Center office tower by Crescent Communities.

Charlotte-based Crescent sold the land to White Lodging in a deal that closed last month.

Both Ally Charlotte Center and the JW Marriott are expected to open in early 2021. Vertical construction is underway on Ally Charlotte Center, a 742,000-square-foot office building that Ally Financial (NYSE: ALLY) is anchoring.

The uptown JW Marriott, a luxury flag of Marriott International Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR), will include guest rooms as well as amenities like an outdoor terrace on the fifth floor with a swimming pool and bar, a full-service spa, coworking executive lounge, bar with outdoor seating, White Lodging-developed restaurant concepts, a grand ballroom, junior ballroom, and additional breakout space.

White Lodging is a hospitality owner, developer and manager. It has developed north of 100 properties, including JW Marriott hotels in Indianapolis and Austin, Texas. The JW Marriott in Charlotte will be the developer's first project in North Carolina.

White Lodging exec on what to expect from upcoming luxury hotel in uptown

The 381-room JW Marriott heading to uptown will be White Lodging's first foray in the Charlotte market — and in all of the Carolinas, for that matter.

The company, which is headquartered in Merrillville, Indiana, is developing the 21-story luxury hotel at the intersection of Stonewall and College streets, where a law firm kept its office for decades before the property was acquired and later demolished to make way for the mixed-use development headed up by Crescent Communities, which is building Ally Charlotte Center, a 26-story office tower anchored by Ally Financial.

Both the hotel and office tower are purposefully being built in tandem, said Doug Nysse, vice president of development at White Lodging. In fact, the excavation and site work that Crescent began months ago is not only preparing the site for Ally Charlotte Center but also for the hotel. Both buildings are expected to open in early 2021 after going vertical next year.

"The fundamentals that we’re seeing in Charlotte between continued job growth, population growth, the airport, general access to the metro area are all critical to our decision to invest in any particular market," Nysse said. "We’ve been tracking that in Charlotte over the last several years and, of course, have done deep diligence in the past couple of years in preparation of this project."

White Lodging is prolific in the Northeast and Midwest, with a much smaller footprint in the Southeast (on its website, it lists two hotels in Tennessee, four in Florida and one in Virginia but none in the Carolinas or Georgia).

Nysse said because of the company's exposure to Charlotte with the JW Marriott project, it's possible more projects could be pursued in Charlotte looking ahead.

White Lodging declined to comment on the expected cost of the hotel.

JW Marriott Charlotte will be White Lodging's third JW Marriott in its portfolio but the one here will be markedly smaller than its other hotels in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, each of which have more than 1,000 rooms — the Austin hotel is that city's largest, at 1,012 rooms, according to data from the Austin Business Journal, a sister publication of the Charlotte Business Journal. The JW Marriott Indianapolis has 1,005 rooms.

"The experiences that we can deliver to our guests (at the JW Marriott) Charlotte are really more on the boutique and lifestyle focus versus the convention center focus," Nysse said.

The city of Charlotte has for years discussed the prospect of building a convention center hotel — a project that typically includes public subsidy; here, the request is expected to be $100 million in taxpayer money — to help bolster Charlotte's convention business. The Marriott IndyPlace hotel complex in Indianapolis, of which the JW Marriott was the centerpiece, carried a price tag of $450 million when it opened in early 2011.

Nysee declined to speculate about whether White Lodging, which has built a number of convention center-size hotels, would one day be interested in building a convention center hotel in the Queen City.

"We're focusing first on (the JW Marriott), but we’re certainly aware of the conversation and we’re tracking it very closely," he said.

Nysse spoke about White Lodging's upcoming investment here and, briefly, what can be expected in the JW Marriott Charlotte. Excepts have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What compelled White Lodging to build a luxury hotel in uptown Charlotte for its first project here?

We think this is the A-plus site for the next fine hotel in the city, between the development Crescent's doing on the site and down the street at Stonewall Station, with the residential and the Whole Foods, and other cranes you see with office development. Very conveniently, we’re diagonal from the convention center, so between an increase in the corporate office space, the amenities of the residents along the street and in the area, and the convention center, this is the center of all activity.

Demand for guestrooms themselves is critical for any hotel development, but in order for this to be our first major investment in Charlotte, it's also absolutely critical that this project ends up being focused on the social scene. In this realm, we have bars and restaurants ... although they’re going to be in the footprint of the hotel, they will be hopefully be outward-focused food and beverage outlets (and) really active.

There are many things playing in our favor — increased residential growth in the area and also, in this particular case, the plaza being built as part of this mixed-use development provides the hotel with exposure to the plaza and other food and beverage outlets that are being developed by Asana on the site.

Does White Lodging exclusively build urban hotels or do you have suburban properties as part of the portfolio mix?

The focus is on urban-center hotels but in other markets, like in Louisville (Kentucky), in the downtown market, we have midrise and high rise (hotels) like Aloft, Homewood Suites, a Moxy Hotel with (a Marriott) Autograph Collection hotel, but in addition, we build select-service hotels in targeted suburban locations — in the Chicago metro area, in Louisville, we're looking in Denver. We can leverage our operational infrastructure — not just urban projects and not just suburban projects but a whole array of them.

Why JW Marriott for the Ally Charlotte Center site?

We have strong brand ties with the Marriott family of brands, specifically JW Marriott. They are fine hotels (and) well-regarded by our guests and our associates, the two most important stakeholders we have in the properties. The opportunity that we see in Charlotte is for a branded hotel that’s very top-end within the marketplace, and that’s also tied to location. There are other fine hotels in Charlotte but this one ... absolutely was the right brand for this location.

What can we expect from the JW Marriott here?

(A boutique and lifestyle focus) will be demonstrated in terms of the intimacy of the spaces, the differentiation of not just the terrific guestrooms that we'll have, but also the community and meeting spaces that we'll have. Pretty much all of our breakout spaces and any of our meeting rooms will have natural light. We’re able to have terrific meeting experiences in the Charlotte location (because) we don’t have to build tremendously huge ballrooms the way that we do in our convention center hotels. We’ll be putting guestrooms on all four sides, which will give our guests a 360-degree view of the city.

Was having an office tower with a signed anchor tenant necessary for White Lodging's involvement?

It was absolutely critical. When Ally signed on to the development for 400,000 square feet ... it was a great demonstration of the success of the market, and it's helpful from a demand standpoint for the hotel to be tied so closely with that development.

What retail outlets will White Lodging develop at the JW Marriott Charlotte?

We have a full division of concepts and offerings to make sure they meet the market. Certainly, we’ve gone through diligence in the market to see where guests are and see where we can position our offerings to make sure it’s truly a destination and guest-focused.

Luxury hotel flag confirmed for uptown Charlotte site

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The hotel flag for a prominent uptown site in Charlotte has been confirmed.

White Lodging will develop a 21-story, 381-room JW Marriott hotel at the corner of Stonewall and College streets, in partnership with Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, which is developing the 26-story Ally Charlotte Center office tower on the same block. White Lodging out of Merrillville, Indiana, says it expects to open the JW Marriott — Charlotte's first — in 2021, the same year Crescent will open Ally Charlotte Center.

Charlotte's JW Marriott, a luxury brand of Marriott International Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR), will feature "modern guest rooms" in addition to an "expansive" outdoor terrace on the fifth floor, which will include a swimming pool and bar with alfresco seating. The hotel will also include Spa by JW, JW Marriott’s full-service luxury spa concept; a "sizable" coworking executive lounge; and a bar with outdoor seating that will connect to the project's plaza and adjacent businesses.

JW Marriott Charlotte’s lobby lounge will include outdoor seating that allows for dining on Stonewall Street. White Lodging-developed restaurant concepts, which have yet to be confirmed, will be part of the hotel as well.

The hotel will have 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space — the outdoor terrace, a grand ballroom that measures more than 5,100 square feet, a 2,400-square-foot junior ballroom and nearly 7,000 square feet of additional breakout space.

Deno Yiankes, president and CEO of investments and developments at White Lodging, said in a statement that the JW Marriott Charlotte will provide a "modern luxury lodging option" adjacent to sports and cultural events as well as conventions.

“The burgeoning Stonewall corridor of Charlotte is experiencing tremendous modernization and growth, and further defining itself as an economic and entertainment hub in the Queen City,” Yiankes said.

Yiankes was not available Wednesday morning to discuss the project further.

Crescent Communities is underway on Ally Charlotte Center, a 742,000-square-foot office building that Ally Financial is anchoring with about 400,000 square feet. The project also includes 30,000 square feet of retail that Charlotte-based Asana Partners is heading up and a 20,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza.

Brian Leary, president of commercial and mixed use for Crescent, said the companies were "laser-focused" on getting a higher-end hotel brand for the site.

"We felt there was a gap in the market at that end of town," he continued. "We see the complementary nature of a hotel use to an office use (as being) more and more valuable."

Leary said there were no updates at Ally Charlotte Center, including any new lease deals, adding the office and retail components have seen "tremendous interest." The site work Crescent is doing on the block today is laying the foundation for the hotel, and Leary said he expects White Lodging to go vertical on JW Marriott Charlotte by early next year.

Leary said Crescent's commercial and mixed-use division is looking to do more projects in Charlotte, especially in places with a "thriving pedestrian environment," but declined to comment further.

"We love our hometown and we love what is going on here," he said. "I think there's tremendous opportunity here."

There are currently more than 80 JW Marriott hotels globally. White Lodging is a hospitality owner, developer and manager, and operates JW Marriott hotels in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis. The JW Marriott Charlotte appears to be White Lodging's first hotel in North Carolina.

The JW Marriott Charlotte is the latest in a number of hotels planned or under construction in center city right now. Farther east along Stonewall, a 176-room Even Hotel and a 180-room Home2 Suites by Hilton are being built at the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets. At Trade and Church streets, a 254-room Grand Bohemian Hotel is under construction. In the planning stages are a 270-room InterContinental Hotel at the Carolina Theatre site on North Tryon Street, a 213-room Homewood Suites by Hilton at North College and East Eighth streets, and a Moxy Hotel with up to 180 rooms at South Brevard and East Fourth streets.

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Charlotte can be a restaurant destination city, tourism leaders say. Here's how.

Can Charlotte become a dining destination in the same league with Southern cities like Charleston, Austin, Texas, Nashville and Atlanta?

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which promotes tourism and events, is sending a team of seven chefs and mixologists to New York in November for a Charlotte Tastemakers Dinner at the James Beard House, the home base of the culinary foundation that supports American regional cuisine. The regional authority said the trip would cost about $35,000.

That follows the first big effort last spring, when the CRVA helped to support a large Charlotte contingent — 22 chefs, mixologists and brewers from 19 restaurants and breweries — at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, one of the biggest food festivals in the South with more than 29,000 visitors.

“That was new to us, to go to a city that has such a respected culinary scene and see if we could generate some excitement,” said CRVA spokeswoman Laura White with the CRVA.

Focusing on Charlotte as a culinary destination is part of branding efforts stemming from the CRVA. One of the key themes of the promotion is culinary, according to White.

While the CRVA isn’t footing the entire bill for the New York trip (Big Green Egg and poultry producer Springer Mountain Farms are also sponsors), the authority is investing in putting Charlotte on the dining map, according to White and spokeswoman Kristen Moore of the CRVA.

The CRVA’s budget is about $70 million a year, said White. Half of that comes from money generated by venues that draw visitors, like the Charlotte Convention Center and performing arts venues. The other half comes from hotel/motel occupancy taxes. A portion of the occupancy tax goes to the CRVA for advertising and promotion.

White points out that Charlotte’s 2018 budget for sales and marketing, $5.2 million, is less than half of Nashville’s $11.6 million. Atlanta spent $8.1 million, Charleston spent $8 million and Asheville spent $7.8 million. All are cities that are regularly listed as Southern dining destinations in coverage of the region.

The perception of Charlotte’s food scene by visitors may already be changing: Surveys of visitors have shown that the city’s dining is becoming a bigger driver of visitor interest.

A 2018 CRVA study of visitor perceptions of Charlotte compared to other markets showed that 57 percent strongly agreed that Charlotte has a wide variety of restaurant options vs. 38 percent for other cities. And 46 percent strongly agreed that the city offers “exceptional dining experience,” compared to 27 percent for other cities.

Of the types of leisure activities people did on recent trips here, a TravelUSA study from last year shows that dining was the biggest, at 52 percent, compared to “visiting friends and relatives,” at 45 percent. Visiting a local brewery came in at 14 percent, and attending a sports event was 13 percent.

Numbers like that are encouraging the CRVA to support drawing attention to the culinary world, White said.

“When we look at that visitor profile every year (and see dining perceptions rising), that’s what our end target is. While there isn’t one silver bullet, it’s the collective efforts.”

Even if you aren’t a visitor to Charlotte, drawing in more tourists with restaurants in mind can pay off, says White. Hospitality and leisure is the fourth largest industry for jobs in Mecklenburg County, she says, with one in nine jobs coming from hospitality.

If you aren’t likely to be in New York on Nov. 16 for the James Beard dinner, you can still get a taste: The chefs and mixologists headed to New York — Ashley Bivens Boyd of 300 East, William Dissen of Haymaker, Joe Kindred of Kindred and Hello Sailor, Bruce Moffett of the Moffett Restaurant Group, Paul Verica of The Stanley, Colleen Hughes of Haberdish and cocktail consultant Bob Peters — will do a run-through of the menu at The Stanley at 6 p.m. Nov. 5. Tickets are $95 and are available at www.eventbrite.com.

And if you are headed to New York, the dinner at the James Beard House is $180 ($140 for members). Tickets are available at www.jamesbeard.org.

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