Ballantyne is growing up

Plus: Video shows airport return of Queen Charlotte; Emails reveal arts groups bickering; More years of Mick Mixon's enthusiastic Panthers play-by-play

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New 14-story hotel/office at Ballantyne Village reveals a more urban future for Charlotte’s suburbia

Ballantyne is movin’ on up.

The 14-story hotel and office tower announced at Ballantyne Village this week will be one of the tallest Charlotte buildings outside of the center city — and it is just the latest evidence that there are big changes afoot in a part of town once viewed as sleepy suburbia.

The 14-story hotel/office building will be one of the city’s tallest outside the center city. What’s taller? One of the SouthPark Towers is 15 stories.

Consider the following developments in just the last three months:

  • Panorama Holdings on Monday announced it is building a 186-room AC Hotel by Marriott on the first seven floors and about 100,000 s.f. of office space on the top seven floors. The building will include a rooftop restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. It building is expected to be complete in 2021. The project also adds 400 parking spaces to the Ballantyne Village parking deck.

  • In May, Northwood Office — which owns the corporate park and the Ballantyne hotel — announced it is building an 11-story office tower on Ballantyne Corporate Place across from the Aloft hotel, expected to be complete in 2021. Northwood Ravin plans an adjacent luxury-apartment tower.

  • In June, Northwood Office announced plans to turn 25 acres behind the Ballantyne hotel into a mix of parks, restaurants, retail, residential and an amphitheater in a “town center” design. The first phase would include 1,000 apartments and 150,000 s.f. of retail. At the time, Northwood CEO John Barton told the Ledger: “We want to make the millennials feel very welcome here in Ballantyne.”

  • As if to underscore that this isn’t your father’s Ballantyne, the area this month got Lime scooters.

Ballantyne isn’t just for low-slung office buildings anymore. Northwood Office announced an 11-story office tower in May.

The Ballantyne of the future: All this activity suggests that Ballantyne is on its way to becoming its own urban center — like one of a series of planets encircling the sun that is uptown/South End. Other cities have similar structures: Think of Atlanta’s Buckhead — it’s distinct from downtown Atlanta and has its own urban feel.

Quote: “The idea of Ballantyne becoming another suburban center, but a very urban one, is very, very real. … These new ideas really lay a good groundwork that can be amplified. I would think Ballantyne in the future would be much more self-contained. People would live, work and play there.” – David Walters, professor emeritus of architecture and urban design at UNC Charlotte, in a Ledger interview.

The tricky part of urbanizing, Walters says, will be transportation. CATS is eyeing an extension of the Lynx Blue Line into Ballantyne, but that’s at least a decade away even if politicians can scrounge up money to build it. Light rail might not do much for local traffic congestion, which is already a rising concern in the area.

“Ballantyne will have to adapt to a future where driving the car is a real pain in the neck,” Walters says. Some might say the future is already here.

Thought bubble: As Ballantyne urbanizes, the tax money it generates will increase dramatically — much like how the tax base of South End has skyrocketed. If Ballantyne starts throwing off a lot more in taxes, would that enhance an argument for the area becoming its own city, separate from Charlotte? Maybe that’s crazy talk, but recall there was a Ballantyne secession movement a few years back.

Ballantyne: What’s out

  • Golf

  • New single-family housing

  • Traffic-free drive down 521

Ballantyne: What’s in

  • Light rail plans

  • Mixed-use developments

  • High-rises

  • Traffic congestion

A new, indoor throne for the queen

There’s always lots going on at Charlotte’s airport. But do you really know where all the airport construction is leading?

There’s a cool video of construction plans that will unfold over the next six years and transform the airport’s terminal lobby and baggage claim areas.

As anyone who uses the airport regularly knows, construction is already underway on an expansion of the roadbed in front of the terminal, but this video gives the blow-by-blow of how crews will rebuild and expand the lobby, ticket counters, security checkpoints and baggage claim over the next six-plus years.

The highlight for longtime residents will no doubt be the reappearance of the iconic Queen Charlotte statue. The 2.5-ton, 15-foot sculpture was exiled from her location outside the terminal (where she had resided since 1990) by construction of the new daily deck back in 2013. Since then, she’s been serving time between the East and West hourly decks.

Exiled no more: Queen Charlotte will return to a higher visibility location.

This animation shows the Queen returning to a new throne inside the expanded lobby (at the 6:45 mark). Another highlight is the installation of a distinctive canopy that will cover the eight-lane road outside the terminal (17:10):

A hat-tip to Friend of the Ledger Edison Cassels for sharing the video. His firm, Edison Foard, is partnering with two other firms, Holder Construction of Vinings, Ga., and Leeper Construction of Charlotte, on the massive project. — Tim Whitmire

Email: ASC tactics are ‘total B.S.,’ make arts groups ‘sound like entitled trust fund kids’

Reading other people’s emails sounds sneaky — unless those emails involve public officials. Emails to and from public officials are public records, and reading them can often be hilarious, because they offer a rare chance to understand what people are actually thinking.

In that vein, WFAE’s Steve Harrison reported this week on emails he unearthed with public records laws from arts groups to the county. You’ll recall that this month, county commissioners agreed to place a sales-tax referendum on November’s ballot. A portion of the proceeds of any tax hike would go to the Arts & Science Council, the umbrella group that dispenses money to arts organizations. The donations it receives have dried up in recent years, its leaders have said.

But there’s dissent in the ranks about the significance of that drop, emails show. Overall giving to arts groups has risen, even as giving to the ASC has plunged, according to an email from the president of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Tom Gabbard. He blasted the ASC in an email to County Manager Dena Diorio. From WFAE:

The president of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center wrote in an email that to “describe this as the imminent collapse of the cultural sector is total BS.” …

Gabbard emailed county manager Dena Diorio, who is working to get the tax passed.

“The crisis and collapse of the cultural sector that ASC describes is not what most of us see,” he wrote.

Workplace giving has dropped, he wrote, and that money is the ASC’s basis for “control and influence over the cultural sector.” …

He told Diorio to “Tell the ASC to stop talking about the decline of workplace giving immediately. They make us sound like entitled trust fund kids, whining about Daddy’s annual allowance going down.”

He added that 99 percent of arts groups are “scared to death of the ASC.”

Gabbard said he preferred a “positive” vision for supporting the arts, as opposed to the “whiny, negative reasons ASC is articulating now.”

The golden rule of email: Don’t write anything that you would be embarrassed for other people to read.

Fortune praises Charlotte’s tech and start-up scene

There’s more national press out this week about Charlotte — and boy, does this one paint a positive picture.

Fortune enlisted a staff writer to develop a piece on Charlotte’s growing tech and start-up scene, and he evidently liked what he learned. The result is a glowing article — “How Charlotte Became the South’s Capital of Capital” — that portrays us as Silicon Valley on the Catawba.

Heavy on anecdotes, the Fortune article correctly notes the string of successes the local tech scene has experienced in recent years. It quotes successful tech leaders and concludes that Charlotte is a fabulous place to build a successful tech company:

For all the discourse about how the nation’s wealth is concentrated in our great coastal metropolises, the Queen City is in the midst of an economic renaissance that’s both attracting major corporations and sprouting dozens of new startups across a variety of industries. 

At a time when millennial professionals from New York to San Francisco find their lives characterized by climbing rents, $9 beers, and toiling public transit systems, Charlotte is luring people from across the country with the promise of a better quality of life and a lower cost of living. …

Charlotte, once considered a dyed-in-the-wool banking town, has given birth to an exploding startup scene in recent years — led by a fintech sector that has thrived on the support of local financial services heavyweights and accelerator programs. …

The sum effect of all of this collaboration and advocacy has been an environment that—contrary to the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world of entrepreneurship in other, larger markets—sees business leaders in Charlotte working together, to an almost unusual extent, toward a shared goal of success.

If there’s a single cautious note in the piece — besides a reference to a 5-year-old Onion article mocking Charlotte — it’s that the city’s banking culture has led investors to hang too tightly onto their wallets:

That’s not to say things are perfect for Charlotte entrepreneurs in search of capital. While expressing her belief that “there’s a ton of capital and opportunity” for startups in the city, [Meggie] Williams [CEO of dog-walking startup Skipper] notes that “a lot of the funding here is risk-averse” compared to other markets—a sentiment that some attribute to the more cautious, banking-related capital that constitutes much of the city’s wealth.

The copiers at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance are probably going into overdrive this morning.

Still, it’s worth a read: Full article here.

In brief

  • Radio home of the Panthers: The Carolina Panthers and Entercom Communications Corp. — the parent company of WBT-AM and WFNZ-AM — announced a multi-year contract extension on Tuesday that will keep game broadcasts on WBT. Terms weren’t disclosed. Mick Mixon and Jim Szoke will provide play-by-play, with Steve Smith Sr., Damione Lewis and Muhsin Muhammad contributing to WFNZ segments, the companies said.

  • Eye-doctor death: Jonathan Christenbury, a well-known local eye doctor who owned Christenbury Eye Center and was among the first to perform Lasik eye surgery in the Carolinas, passed away last week of a heart attack, according to his obituary. He was 64.

  • Affordable housing: The City Council approved spending $17.7M on eight affordable-housing projects throughout the city that will create 950 apartments. (Observer)

  • Charlotte landmark: César Pelli, the architect who designed Charlotte’s iconic Bank of America Corporate Center, died last week at the age of 92. He also designed Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers. “I want to capture the nobility of the tall buildings so that they can share in being sacred elements,” he said in 2017.

Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (R) (92% on Rotten Tomatoes): Old stars’ Hollywood struggles

  • Judgementall Hai Kya (NR): Quirky, humorous thriller

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Toy Story 4 (G) (98% on Rotten Tomatoes)

  • Spider Man: Far From Home (PG-13) (90%)

  • Crawl (R) (87%)

  • The Art of Self-Defense (R) (87%)

  • Midsommar (82%)

  • Annabelle Comes Home (64%)

  • Yesterday (PG-13) (63%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • This weekend: Charlotte to Monterey, Calif., $313 round-trip on American (one-stop), July 26-29.

  • Charlotte to Newark, $88 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Aug. 16-19.

  • Charlotte to Panama City, Panama, $284 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Aug. 19-28.

  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $67 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Aug. 23-26.

  • Charlotte to San Jose, Calif., $155 round-trip on American (one-stop), Sept. 5-9.

  • Charlotte to San Jose, Costa Rica, $283 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Sept. 6-13.

  • Charlotte to Orlando, $76 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Sept. 20-23.

  • Charlotte to Las Vegas, $196 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Dec. 7-9.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

The Charlotte Ledger

  • Editor: Tony Mecia

  • Senior contributor: Tim Whitmire

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