An Epicentre turnaround plan?

Plus: 8-story condo tower planned for East Boulevard in Dilworth; CMS ditches new website; N.C. was 4th fastest-growing state in '19

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After shootings, tenants want help luring families back to the Epicentre; insufficient ‘TLC’ from new owners, development’s creator says

With customers shunning the Epicentre, the development’s owners are working on a plan to bring new life back to the once-hot site after two deadly shootings in the last four months, according to one of the Epicentre’s biggest tenants.

In an interview with The Ledger, the chief financial officer of Studio Movie Grill said the company has seen business drop off in the last 12-18 months and that Epicentre tenants want the development’s owner to find a way to bring families back.

“They’re supposed to come back to us in a few weeks and give us an overall plan,” said Ted Croft, the company’s CFO. “They’re out talking to all the tenants. We’re like, ‘Hey, we want to hear what you guys have in store. Help us out.’ …  We are all saying the same thing: How can you help us attract the families back, because they were coming.”

He said Studio Movie Grill is spending “a lot of money on security,” as is the Epicentre’s owner, CIM Group. (Croft was in town last month for the opening of the company’s second Charlotte location, in Prosperity Village near Highland Creek. More on his thoughts on Charlotte and the movie-theater business in a future newsletter.)

Representatives from CIM Group couldn’t be reached for this article. It’s unclear what a turnaround plan might look like, or whether it’s even possible to market your way out of a perception that the area is dangerous:

  • In November, an off-duty police officer shot and killed a man who was leaving the Epicentre in the early morning after the man had exchanged gunfire with another patron.

  • In September, a 74-year-old CEO of a drug-disposal company was hit by a stray bullet and killed when somebody pulled a gun as part of a fight in an Epicentre alleyway in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

  • A subsequent analysis of crime data by the Observer found police have “responded to more violent crimes at the Epicentre in recent years than at any other commercial or residential location in Charlotte.”

Although the Epicentre and its tenants were once happy to reap the breathless publicity about openings of hot new bars and clubs, the future of the Epicentre has become a sensitive topic, and many of those same tenants are now clamming up about its problems. Several didn’t return calls. The site, on College Street between Fourth and Trade streets uptown across the light rail line from the bus station, is home to more than 40 restaurants, clubs and other retail tenants.

Flashback: When the Epicentre opened in 2008, it was the hot place to be. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Panthers linebacker Jon Beason were among the local celebs attending the packed debut of Whisky River: “Junior stayed hidden in his VIP booth with friends (including a gaggle of table-dancing girls) and closed the place down,” the Observer reported at the time.

There were lines to get into clubs. The restaurants were packed. It made sense: an entertainment hotspot in the middle of a thriving downtown.

Now, though, a stroll through the Epicentre can feel more like walking through a ghost town. Many of the clubs and restaurants are still open but empty. The city’s prime nightlife spots have migrated elsewhere, like to South End.

CIM Group, based in Los Angeles, is Epicentre’s third owner. Some say the site has suffered from changes in ownership over the years. The site’s original developer, Afshin Ghazi, ceded control of his interests in it in 2012 after a foreclosure and a bankruptcy filing. CIM Group bought the property from interim owners in 2014 for $131M.

No ‘riffraff’ at first: One source in management of an Epicentre restaurant, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said in its early days, under the original ownership, Epicentre security “wouldn’t let riffraff in,” even though some patrons complained about those tactics being too aggressive. But after ownership changed hands, new out-of-state owners were less vigilant, the source told The Ledger.

In an interview, Ghazi said subsequent owners didn’t understand the complexities of running the Epicentre.

Care needed: “The type of project that the Epicentre was needed a tremendous amount of TLC from an ongoing, everyday perspective,” he said. “I don’t think the new owners or the interim owners that came in had any idea how complex and deliberate you had to be. … They thought it just ran itself, and it didn’t.”

He mentioned the need for programming and security but declined to elaborate.

Asked if he thought the Epicentre has been mismanaged since others took control, he paused and said: “In part.”

He said it’s “disheartening” to see what is happening to the Epicentre but that he knows how to turn it around. Asked how, Ghazi said: “That’s for me to know and everybody else to guess. I’m not in the advice-giving business.”

Then he joked: “If they want to give it back to me, I’ll be happy to fix it.”

Big pink building developer linked to Dilworth condo tower proposal

Sound the alarm — more big development news on a stretch of East Boulevard in Dilworth that’s been seeing a lot of activity lately.

Developers have told the city that they’re interested in building three condo towers and an office/retail tower between three and eight stories tall near the corner of East Boulevard and Lombardy Circle — close to Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center. Here’s the full description from city records:

Ground level courtyard plaza over four level[s] of underground parking. [F]rom the courtyard will be four separate towers. Three are condos (individual for sale units) of varying height from 3 story to 8 story with a private residence pool on the rooftop of the three story tower. [T]he fourth tower is a five story office building with future retail/restaurant(s) at the courtyard level. [P]arking level will have drive entry off of Lombardy Circle and two loading dock areas within the building footprint (one serving the residential towers and one for the retail/office tower) also off of Lombardy Circle.

Eight-story East Boulevard condo tower? Developers told the city they’re exploring building four towers near a corner that has mostly office buildings.

City records list the contact as a senior project manager with DAS Architecture in Charlotte. He didn’t return an email over the weekend.

Word around Dilworth is that the developer behind the project is Jim Gross, best known for his work developing The Arlington in South End. It’s the 24-story pink residential tower off South Boulevard.

It’s unclear if the project would require a rezoning. Some of the parcels in the area are zoned for office use, while others are zoned for multifamily.

The Ledger reported last month that all the parcels on the two residential streets next to Lombardy — Garden Terrace and Fountain View — are either owned by Atrium or under contract to a company affiliated with medical-office developer Summit Healthcare. Summit bought several parcels along East Boulevard in the fall, including the site of the Starbucks at Scott Avenue.

Pass the popcorn.

New year, new Ledger? A brief update

A quick timeout to report to you on the evolution of The Ledger.

Starting today, you’ll notice a small change to this e-newsletter: It has sponsors. We are grateful for their support. These are companies that appreciate the idea behind The Ledger and want to reach its growing audience. Having a small number of appropriate sponsors is part of The Ledger’s plan to become a sustainable business that delivers business-y news and analysis about Charlotte.

The other part is you. In a couple months, some editions of this newsletter will be available only to subscribers for a monthly or yearly fee. There will always be some editions that remain free. More details to come on this in the weeks ahead. (If you want the full thinking behind The Ledger’s plans, check out this post from November.)

Bottom line: Our editorial approach isn’t changing. We’re building a business around quality journalism that’s fully transparent and that’s designed for smart people who care about their community. As The Ledger grows, it will be able to do that better.

The holidays are a busy time. Here are some of the original articles you might have missed in the last couple weeks:

  • The 4 factors that fueled Charlotte’s decade of resurgence: Clayton Sealey, who runs the popular social media account CLT Development, explains how commercial real estate in Charlotte came back from the 2008-09 recession.

  • How White Claw took over Davidson: Davidson senior Ariana Howard explains the popularity of hard seltzer and how it is overtaking beer as a college drink of choice. The article is the result of a partnership between The Ledger and Davidson’s student paper.

  • What Atlanta can teach Tepper about soccer: Former Observer and Associated Press reporter Tim Whitmire shows why Atlanta’s experience with pro soccer is the right model for Charlotte.

  • The Ledger was also the first to tell you about a huge new warehouse planned near the airport and new townhomes planned behind Community House Middle School in Ballantyne, and it pointed out that plans for a soccer HQ at the Eastland Mall site happen to be in a location that offers big federal tax breaks.

There’s plenty more good stuff in the works.

Contest: Also, be on the lookout for a special email tomorrow about a fun contest The Ledger is running this month.

In brief:

  • CMS backtracks on website: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has ditched its new website after parent complaints that it was hard to find information. The district had hired a California company to revamp the site and had signed a $400,000 contract, the Ledger reported in November. (Ledger web extra)

  • Boost for high-speed rail: Railroad CSX and the state of Virginia reached a deal to boost rail service between Richmond and D.C. The deal also allows the N.C. Department of Transportation to acquire 10 miles of right-of-way in the northern part of the state. “The state’s long-term plans for rail service include passenger trains capable of going 110 miles per hour between Raleigh and Richmond.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch and N&O)

  • Most expensive house sale: The Charlotte region’s priciest home sale of 2019 was a house near SouthPark mall that sold for $4.85M on Dec. 20. The five-bedroom, six-bath brick house on Richardson Drive, off Colony Road behind the shopping center with the Earth Fare, includes “more than 11,000 square feet between the main home and a secondary structure.” (Biz Journal)

  • New banks: JP Morgan Chase has detailed where it plans to open its first bank branches in the Charlotte area. The sites are at South Tryon at West Trade streets, Pineville-Matthews Road at Arboretum View and in Cornelius at Catawba Avenue at West Jetton Road, according to regulatory filings. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Soccer hire: Charlotte’s new Major League Soccer team named Zoran Krneta as its “sporting director,” a role that is like a general manager in (American) football. Krneta founded England-based sports agency Star Sports & Entertainment, “which has placed players in MLS, the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.” (ESPN)

  • Excelsior Club sale: A California investment firm has completed its $1.35M purchase of the Excelsior Club, a historically significant site on Beatties Ford Road. The new owner “plans to keep the façade and turn the site into an entertainment venue with a restaurant and hotel.” (WFAE)

  • Tito’s on top: Tito’s Homemade Vodka was the top-selling liquor in North Carolina in 2019, according to stats from the N.C. ABC Board. Vodka accounted for 13 of the 21 top-selling brands, though “tequilas saw larger gains in the past year than many other spirits.” (WFAE)

  • Growing fast: North Carolina added 106,000 residents between 2018 and 2019, the fourth highest number of any state, behind Texas, Florida and Arizona, the census bureau said last week. The state’s population is nearly 10.5 million, the ninth highest in the country.

Today’s supporting sponsor is T.R. Lawing Realty.

We Rent Charlotte … One Home at a Time

Bare shelves at HT

No, it’s not a threat of snow clearing out the milk, bread and everything else. The Park Road Shopping Center Harris Teeter closed Saturday for renovations. The company hasn’t said when it will reopen, but it’s expected to be months.

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.