Huge Ballantyne land sale stirs high school hopes

Plus: What does new Wells CEO mean for Charlotte?; Healthcare CEO ousted after threatening cops; International smorgasbord in Pineville

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South Charlotte high intrigue: CMS was moving on Olde Providence site until news became public; ideal 80-acre parcel for sale in Ballantyne — but is it too pricey?

It’s been more than a month since bulldozers behind Olde Providence Elementary alerted neighbors and the rest of the city that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was checking to see if the site would be suitable for building a new high school. Here’s what has happened since:

  • Olde Providence residents have learned more about CMS plans — which seem to have been farther along than the district admitted.

  • Work on Olde Providence has stopped — even though CMS has had discussions with an architect.

  • Some south Charlotte parents are buzzing about a new 80-acre site near Ballantyne that’s for sale — though it might be too expensive for government tastes.

Background: The hubbub in August — which was first reported by the Ledger — caught neighbors off-guard, since the district had said nothing about where it might place a new high school designed to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell and South Meck. The location is important because it will help determine attendance boundaries, the lengths of students’ trips to school and perhaps property values. A lot of Olde Providence residents don’t want a bustling high school near their backyards and would prefer the area stay wooded, and a lot of Ardrey Kell parents say the Olde Providence site is too far away to help relieve the crush of students at Ardrey Kell.

At the time, CMS said it was merely evaluating options, with no decisions made.

Architect engaged

But public records obtained by residents since then show that CMS hired Ratio Architects of Raleigh on June 6. The $5.2 million contract calls for Ratio to provide “architectural services for new high school,” and Ratio is listed on the CMS website as the architect for a new south Charlotte high school. Ratio and a CMS spokeswoman did not return calls this week. 

A July project update from CMS shows “design and permitting” for the new south Charlotte high school was to have started in September (this month). That indicates Olde Providence was eyed as the main site, since CMS leaders have said they have few other options, and suitable land is scarce in south Charlotte. Negotiating and closing on a new site would take months.

Board members and public in the dark? School board members have said they have not voted on a site. Former CMS superintendent Clayton Wilcox mentioned Olde Providence as the site at a community meeting in Ballantyne in April. But that selection was never announced or discussed at a public board meeting. Wilcox was forced out in July for reasons that remain unclear.

Work stopped, site ‘undetermined,’ school opening ‘TBD’

Board member Sean Strain told the Ledger that CMS staff thought the board had picked Olde Providence. A CMS executive told him: “Sean, you need to understand that we understood that a decision had been made,” Strain says. “What I’m confident in is that the staff believed that the decision had been made. They are clear now that the decision hasn’t been made. All work has stopped on looking at Olde Providence as a site until such time as a decision is made as to how to proceed by the board.”

An update this month lists the high school site as “location undetermined.” It also changed the move-in date of August 2023 to “TBD” — an indication that the new south Charlotte high school seems unlikely to open on time as leaders sort out its location.

At the same time, other high school construction in the county that is part of the 2017 bond package remains on track. CMS is building a new high school near The Palisades to reduce overcrowding at Olympic and also a new West Charlotte high school on that school’s existing site. They’re both expected to open in 2022.

80 acres in Ballantyne up for sale

Land in fast-growing south Charlotte is scarce, but some parents have learned of another potential site: an 80-acre parcel behind the British International School near Johnson Road and I-485. That’s smack dab between AK and South Meck.

Property records show it is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. A diocese spokeswoman said she was not immediately able to learn information about the status of the site on Thursday.

But a commercial real estate source told the Ledger that the site, just inside I-485 between Community House Road and the Four Mile Creek Greenway, was put up for sale this summer. That’s big development news by itself, because it is a big tract of prime land that new owners might find suitable for a new shopping center or mixed-use development. (Rule of thumb: If it’s across from an Earth Fare, consider it prime real estate.)

An 80-acre parcel in Ballantyne owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte is up for sale, a real estate source told the Ledger. Its location near I-485 and Johnson Road makes it sensible to relieve overcrowding at Ardrey Kell and South Meck, but its price might be too steep for the school board.

But the price is steep — maybe too steep for CMS. It is valued at $33.6M, according to county tax records. That’s nearly 1/3 of the entire budget for the south Charlotte high school. By comparison, CMS land costs at Olde Providence would be zero, since it already owns the site. CMS needs the approval of the county commission before buying land.

Bottom line: Lots of intrigue. Lots of talk. Lots of speculation. No decisions yet, but south Charlotte schools are getting more crowded.

So who is this new Wells Fargo CEO, anyway?

People in Charlotte awoke to news this morning that Wells Fargo has finally named a new CEO, Charles Scharf of Bank of New York Mellon. This raises two big questions:

  1. Who is this guy?

  2. What does this mean for Charlotte?

Let’s break those down separately:

Who is Charles Scharf?

Until today, Scharf was the CEO of BNY Mellon. It’s a Fortune 500 company that’s smaller than Wells Fargo, with about 1/5 the number of employees and revenue. Before that, he was CEO of Visa. And before that, he ran consumer banking for JPMorgan Chase under CEO Jamie Dimon.

So if you were hoping for a creative, outside-the-box pick, Scharf isn’t it. If you were to invent a resume for a New York bank executive, it would probably resemble something like Scharf’s. But if you were looking for a Wells Fargo outsider who knows something about running financial institutions, Scharf probably makes sense.

Quick reaction from the Financial Times:

Brian Kleinhanzl, a banks analyst at KBW, said the appointment was “a bit of a surprise” given Mr. Scharf’s relatively short tenure at BNY Mellon. “It removes an overhang for Wells Fargo as operating without a permanent CEO was a net negative,” he added.

What does it mean for Charlotte?

Wells is Charlotte’s second-largest employer, with roughly 25,000 workers here. When people ask what naming this new CEO means for Charlotte, what they really want to know is: Will he move Wells Fargo’s HQ here and create oodles of jobs? It’s a fair question, but it also presumes CEO candidates can be categorized into pro-Charlotte and anti-Charlotte camps. The truth is that nobody really knows what this means for Charlotte — probably not even Charles Scharf.

But let’s guess anyway: It’s always fun to speculate. One of the more eyebrow-raising parts of Friday morning’s announcement is that Scharf will be based in New York and not at Wells HQ in San Francisco. That could be noteworthy. When he left Visa in 2016, he said it was because he was unable to spend enough time at Visa’s San Francisco HQ to do his job effectively. “Running a San Francisco-based company just doesn’t work for me personally right now,” he said at the time.

There might be less to that than it seems. Note that BofA CEO Brian Moynihan spends little time in his bank’s Charlotte HQ, but all seems good here. Financial-industry CEOs need to spend time on Wall Street.

But if you’re looking for a pro-Charlotte glimmer of hope, it’s tempting to look at Scharf as anti-San Francisco. Does that mean he would look to move Wells HQ out of San Francisco and move it to, say, a thriving, low-cost, millennial-friendly tech- and finance-heavy city with a major airport hub? We can always hope.

Fun fact

BNY Mellon, where Scharf comes from, was co-founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784. Since the musical “Hamilton” came out in 2015, the bank has sought to play up its connection to the Founding Fathers:

Attention CEOs: What not to do if you’re pulled over for drunk driving

The CEO of Blue Cross NC was ousted this week, after new information about his June drunk-driving arrest surfaced — and showed that he threatened the cops by boasting of his political connections.

The CEO, Patrick Conway, resigned under pressure Wednesday. He was arrested in June south of Greensboro and had his two young daughters in his SUV at the time. The Raleigh News & Observer has the juicy details:

A video provided to The News & Observer appears to show Conway weaving between lanes for several miles on Interstate 85 before sideswiping a tractor-trailer. A confidential police report says Conway became “belligerent” at the police station and threatened to use political connections against the police.

The report quotes Conway saying: “You had a choice. You could have let me go. You don’t know who I am. I am a doctor, a CO of a company [sic]. I’ll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble.” The governor “was not involved in this incident in any way,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter told the N&O Tuesday.

It’s great that this version of “don’t you know who I am?” didn’t resonate with police, who ignored the CEO’s bluster and did their jobs.

In brief

  • Car town: Charlotte ranks as the eighth-worst large metro area to live without a car, according to a new study. Raleigh was third-worst, behind Birmingham and Nashville. Many of the worst are in the South and had their populations boom after cars became common.

  • Health costs rise: Average annual premiums for employee-sponsored health insurance now surpass $20,000 a year per worker for family coverage, according to a survey this week from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Wow. Employees typically pay about one-third and companies pay the rest.

  • Hornets mobile ticketing: Following the lead of the Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets will make almost all ticket holders access tickets on their smartphones. “Fans need to have a smartphone and have downloaded the Hornets app to access tickets.” (Observer)

  • Better incentives: The city is planning to revamp its business incentives, making them easier for expanding companies to receive city money for adding jobs. A city committee recommended the changes Thursday, and the full council will vote on them next month. (Biz Journal/paywall).

  • Politics at BofA: Following the recent rash of mass shootings, CEO Brian Moynihan says his bank is comfortable wading into political issues. “Companies have to both ‘produce a great profit and make progress’ for society,” he said. (Bloomberg)

Food and booze news

A weekly wrap-up of the week’s eating and drinking developments

  • Arby’s owner buys Jimmy John’s: Inspire Brands becomes the fourth-largest U.S. restaurant company with the purchase. Its “fast-food empire” includes Sonic and Buffalo Wild Wings. (Business Insider)

  • Fresh Chef closes in Cotswold: Fresh Chef has five locations in the Charlotte area. The one at Providence and Sharon Amity roads “had a regular following, but it faced challenges when it came to parking at that site.” (Biz Journal)

  • Plaza-Midwood restaurant sold: Dish has been sold to new owners who include the owner of Sweet Lew’s BBQ. New owners tell Unpretentious Palate they plan to source more ingredients locally, raise prices and “revamp their cocktail program.” (Team coverage: Unpretentious Palate/paywall, Queen City Nerve, Agenda, Spectrum News, Observer)

Pineville’s international food corridor

Want evidence of how the Charlotte area is changing? Look no further than Pineville. That’s what Charlotte magazine senior editor Greg Lacour did. He went exploring south of South Boulevard and found people from different backgrounds selling all sorts of foods:

See the Indian market at the far end of the shopping center’s crumbling parking lot; the offer of pierogies painted in white on the glass of the cozy deli across from the shoe outlet and the boat repair shop; all the pieces of the world that have collected and taken root here.

It’s a mile from I-485 to N.C. Highway 51, Main Street. No fewer than eight nationalities are represented along that mile. They include Chinese and Mexican restaurants, not unusual in a growing city. But then you encounter Machu Picchu, a Peruvian restaurant that serves authentic ceviche, the raw seafood dish in citrus juice. You run into an old-fashioned doughnut shop that’s straight out of small-town America, except it’s run by a pair of Korean immigrants, Soncha and Soon Lee.

You discover a trio of markets, two Indian and one Japanese, where you can buy takeout meals and delicacies you may never have encountered, like roasted chana (a snack made from dried and seasoned chickpeas) in 14-ounce jars and bags of “glutinous rice ball with sesame filling.”

The area is less celebrated than the better-known Central Avenue corridor. But Lacour finds it rich with multicultural delights:

The corridor’s obscurity sweetens the triumph of having found it. “Charlotte is a city where it’s real easy to live in your bubble,” says local historian Tom Hanchett. “It’s easy to be a prisoner of your zip code. It takes a little courage. But the reward is huge.”

The full article is available here.

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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.