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Charlotte's planned urban entertainment center

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Here's a new article about the convention center redevelopment. I'll see if I can get the rendering up soon. Groundbreaking scheduled for next summer!

DEVELOPMENT

Old center's facelift gains support

Rooftop bar, theater among possible tenants to replace empty convention center

DOUG SMITH

An urban entertainment center planned for the old convention center site in uptown Charlotte is picking up support and making progress toward a groundbreaking early next summer.

Developer Spectrum Properties has teamed with The Ghazi Co., a Charlotte retail development specialist, to help recruit tenants ranging from a sports bar to a 10-screen movie theater.

The first drawings of the $40 million project have been prepared, and developers will petition the city Monday for zoning to permit the bold lighting schemes and colorful outdoor signs envisioned by architects.

The concept also recently received the endorsement of the Charlotte Center City Partners' planning and development committee.

"At this stage of the game, we are very encouraged with the design and the likely tenant mix," said Tim Newman, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, which promotes development inside the Interstate 277 loop.

He said Jim Dulin, chairman and chief executive officer of Spectrum Properties, "is being very diligent and listening. More and more, I'm feeling better and better about this happening."

Charlotte's LS3P Associates Ltd. designed the exterior of the 200,000-square-foot building to look like a series of smaller, pedestrian-scale structures. Facades range from brick and glass to stucco and stone with awnings, banners, signs and lights.

"We were trying for the excitement of Times Square, but we wanted to do something that 10 or 15 years from now wouldn't look dated," said Jim Williams, LS3P's design principal and vice president.

The entertainment center would use the concrete support structure of the old convention center at College and Trade streets and retain the 300-space underground parking garage.

But you wouldn't recognize it after the makeover. The white brick would be stripped from the exterior, and the ornamental pyramids would disappear from the top.

The new roof would become a focal point of the entertainment complex with what Williams calls an "active and animated" skybar and a "passive" garden terrace for meetings, receptions and events.

The rooftop venues would occupy the corners of the building at College and Trade streets and College and Fourth streets.

The side of the building facing the existing bus transportation center between Trade and Fourth streets would connect to a light-rail transit stop to be shared with the new NBA arena, under construction and due to open in fall 2005.

Williams said the retail/restaurant portion of the entertainment center would connect by an elevated walkway over College Street to the 40-story Bank of America Plaza building and the Overstreet Mall network.

An estimated 40,000-square-foot movie theater with escalators leading up to the entrance would anchor the second level of the building on the transit platform side.

A cobblestone "street" with gas lanterns would wind through the massive building connecting the various pieces.

The College Street main entrance would have a porte-cochere, where vehicles can drop off visitors under shelter or take advantage of valet parking.

The city closed the old convention center after the new one opened south of The Square in 1995 at College and Stonewall streets.

Over the past five years, two national development firms tried unsuccessfully to buy the 30-year-old building from the city and replace it with upscale shopping, hotels and office towers.

Spectrum Properties lost out in a competition to purchase the old center about three years ago, but looking back, Dulin said, that probably was a good thing.

The timing is much better now, he said, because the site is diagonally across Trade from the arena in an area ripe for more restaurants, bars and shops.

The proposed project -- the developers are still trying to come up with the right name -- could anchor an entertainment district expected to spread over several blocks around the arena.

Spectrum and The Ghazi Co. anticipate a mix of office and retail, keying on such tenants as a sports/billiards bar, a jazz/comedy club, a large fitness center and perhaps university classrooms and a contemporary art museum.

The developers say they are talking with prospective operators about leasing the theater and the rooftop skybar. Negotiations are going well, Dulin said, and Spectrum might announce the initial tenants in about two months.

Afshin Ghazi of The Ghazi Co. said they're talking with themed restaurants that aren't in Charlotte and are seeking an entertainment, restaurant and games venue similar to Jillian's.

Dulin said Spectrum's financial partner in the project is CIM Group, a Hollywood, Calif., real estate investment firm that specializes in urban projects.

The developers expect to close by June on the old convention center site. They are under contract to buy it for $14 million from Arena Holdings LLC, which acquired it from the city last summer as part of the arena financing package.

If all goes well, Dulin said, the building should be 50 percent to 75 percent leased by the time construction starts in early summer.

The developers want to open in conjunction with the arena in 2005.

Dulin, who always hedges by saying the success of the venture depends on cooperation and support from the Charlotte business community, won't say it's a done deal yet.

"There's still a lot of work to do, but we are getting a lot closer," he said. "In another 60 days we should know for sure."

Doug Smith

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I saw the rendering in the paper yesterday...the building looked really busy...it will be a nice contrast from most of the corporate structures in downtown...

I'm not sure about all the lights they want to put in there...the Arena wants to do a lot of lights as well, that whole area is going to be lit up like a Christmas tree.

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Sounds good. The old hockey stadium in Montreal was turned into an entertainment-type complex including a 22-screen AMC movie theatre.

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Uptownliving, do you have a hard copy of the rendering? If you can, please scan it for the rest of us to see. Even better, is the image posted on the Internet? I find it a little bit hard to visualize the proposed conversion, but this may be from looking at the computer screen all day :) This project sounds awesome and it will bring even more people downtown.

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WOW! This news is exciting! I cant wait to see the renderings!

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The article states "The new roof would become a focal point of the entertainment complex...with an 'active and animated' skybar and a 'passive' garden terrace for meetings, receptions and events."

What they mean by "active and animated" is anyone's guess.

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The rendering looks awesome (thanks Citymedic)!!! I hope this project materializes... it will add a lot to Uptown and will certainly become a magnet for more people. Great concept.

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ok, does anyone want to take a guess and say they're recruiting hard rock cafe as one of the "themed" restaurants? I think the guitars on the corner of the building are a hint.

Id like to see a gameworks come in. that'd be pretty cool.

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I hope they also put in an entrance and shops along the Light Rail side...as that will be a heavily trafficed area with the light rail and bus station.

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