It's ON: Ballantyne plan sets up battle with South End

Plus: Charlotte's lack-of-image problem; BB&T/SunTrust closes in on a name; Mayor Lyles stars in comedy video

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Watch out, South End: Ballantyne is coming for your millennials

The massive new town-center development planned in Ballantyne, announced on Saturday, aims to compete with other parts of town as a cool place to live and work. South End gets most of the buzz. But other areas of town are making moves, too, including SouthPark and Waverly, which are adding apartments and restaurants at a breathtaking clip.

The Ballantyne plans are bigger than just Ballantyne. What happens in Ballantyne could set the tone for how other traditionally suburban places in Charlotte develop.

It’s ironic that Ballantyne is playing catch-up. As the kids say nowadays, Ballantyne was the OG of Charlotte mixed-use back when it was announced 25 years ago. (It’s the original.) It was the biggest planned development in Charlotte’s history – nearly 2,000 acres that were developed into housing, retail and a bunch of huge office towers. It included a luxury hotel, now known as The Ballantyne, and a sweet golf course. It was suburbia within the city limits.

Would young people flock to Ballantyne if it looked like this?

Times change: Now, the owners of the hotel and office park – Northwood Office, who bought the development from The Bissell Cos. two years ago – want to refresh the site and make it more like what you’d see in an urban area. Northwood wants to sacrifice part of the golf course and turn it into mixed-use within a mixed-use, with 1,000 apartments in four buildings, 150,000 square feet of retail/restaurants, an amphitheater and plenty of green space and parks on 25 acres. A later phase would add another 1,000 apartments and 300 townhouses.

Is it too late?

A lot of the market Ballantyne is shooting for is already present in other areas. Young people, in case you haven’t heard, are flocking to South End, which is approaching self-parody levels of e-scooters, breweries, restaurants and luxury apartments. Companies are following.

The stats:

  • ZIP code 28277, which includes Ballantyne: 16% of residents are 20-34.

  • ZIP code 28203, which includes South End: 40% of residents are 20-34.

Amazon’s decision to bypass Charlotte for its headquarters — including a proposal from Ballantyne — might have been a wake-up call that some modern companies aren’t looking to set up shop in office parks. More recently, one of Ballantyne’s most prominent tenants, LendingTree, announced plans to move its HQ and 500 employees to South End, in part to make itself more appealing to the younger workforce.

Could a hip town center in Ballantyne lure young people? Should Ballantyne have developed this years ago, before South End became the young-person juggernaut it is today?

The play is to catch the millennials when they tire of city living. Northwood president John Barton told The Ledger that its plan for Ballantyne assumes that as young people grow older and have kids, they will want a yard and parks and great public schools.

At Saturday’s meeting, Barton said it’s a huge investment and that it is a rare opportunity for a single company to guide such a big project: “We have the most to protect and also the most to lose. … We have so much at stake here, we have to get it right. That is probably the single greatest leveler for accountability and responsibility.”

Traffic and light rail

After the news broke on Saturday, Ballantyne residents took to a Facebook group called Ballantyne Connection to weigh in. Some liked the idea, but many had big concerns about traffic. They wrote things like:

  • “More traffic and congestion”

  • “This will add about 10 minutes more traffic to the commute on 485”

  • “Yay, more traffic”

  • “Ridic”

Asked Sunday about traffic concerns, a Northwood Office spokeswoman told the Ledger in a statement:

We’re establishing a new model for how transportation works, by considering all transportation options – better roads, extended bus service, biking and walking accessibility. As the owner/developer, we are mindful of congestion-related concerns.

Popular places can be congested – that’s why they’re popular, and there are no simple solutions. That said, we’re working with consultants and master planners to review infrastructure needs to ensure we’re being thoughtful about traffic and transportation.

Ballantyne Reimagined will allow those who work here to live close by, resulting in less people traveling to work by car.

It’s not like Ballantyne has uniquely awful traffic. Here’s a handy data map from the Quality of Life Explorer — a joint effort from local governments and UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute — that shows who has the worst commutes:

Development along 521, especially into South Carolina, is making traffic worse. Adding a couple thousand apartments and an entertainment district right by the Ballantyne hotel won’t help. (It also makes the debate from 2013 over whether Dilworth should allow a Walgreens look quaint.) But what’s the alternative? Stick with the 1990s development plan, do nothing, and hope Ballantyne continues to thrive, even as other places in town embrace more modern approaches?

Keep an eye on this: One big thing to watch now is what happens with light rail. In an amazing coincidence, at about the same time that Northwood will file for a rezoning, CATS is putting the finishing touches on a plan to extend light rail into Pineville and perhaps to Ballantyne. It’s just a plan. There’s no actual money to pay for additional light rail — yet. That would probably require a tax increase.

The idea is a bit of a bait-and-switch, because light rail into Ballantyne probably wouldn’t ease traffic congestion there any more than the existing light-rail line has improved traffic on I-77. But as a redevelopment engine, light rail would make Ballantyne much more attractive – just as it did in South End.

Prediction: You will see an effort to extend light rail to Ballantyne, soon. And expect discussions of how to pay for it, soon.


Flashback

[Developer Johnny] Harris envisions the hub of the property, “Town Center,” as a close-knit community of homes, shops, parks, schools and public services with people living in neighborhoods that duplicate the sense of community in a Fourth Ward or a Dilworth.

“If I had a dream … there would be a traffic jam every Saturday and Sunday, but it would be bicycles” instead of cars, he said.

— Charlotte Observer, Aug. 9, 1991, in a front-page article entitled “Developers envision community of 10,000 on southern outerbelt” – the first announcement of Ballantyne


Drawing a blank on Charlotte’s image

Well here’s some blunt talk you don’t hear everyday from Charlotte business leaders.

Janet LaBar, the newly installed CEO of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, told the Observer’s Deon Roberts in an interview that as far as she knows, “Charlotte doesn’t have a brand.” But wait, it gets worse:

Back on the West Coast, nothing came to mind when LaBar heard Charlotte, N.C., she said in an hour-long interview with the Observer this week.

“I think Charlotte doesn’t have a brand,” she said, speaking of the region. “That’s not necessarily, today, good or bad. That just means that’s an opportunity for us to actually create one.” …

“It’s got to be more, and it’s got to be better, than the financial hub of the South,” she said.

The alliance has just hired a new chief communications and marketing officer, who will help with branding work, she said.

There are probably plenty of jokes to be made here about what Charlotte’s brand should actually be.

With the number of newcomers flocking here every day, our lack of brand identity doesn’t seem to be hurting.


Loves me some internet

Never seen Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles star in a comedy video before? Here’s your chance:

The video is part of “Charlotte Squawks,” a musical parody show now playing at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Booth Playhouse. The Ledger reviewed it a couple weeks ago. (Review here.)


BB&T/SunTrust narrows name search

With Honeywell’s plans uptown now sealed, the next big uptown question is going to be where the combined BB&T/SunTrust HQ will go — and does it require its own office tower?

The Ledger examined the city’s office-space crunch last month, and it seems clear that demand is outstripping supply uptown and in South End even as more space comes online.

BB&T/SunTrust has said it expects to announce its new name by the end of June, and last week, SunTrust CEO elaborated in an interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle (paywall):

“The list has narrowed fairly significantly,” Rogers said …. “We are down to a handful [of] names. As you can imagine, you have to get a name that’s legally defensible. But we are really laser-focused on the brand.” 

Rogers said the banks have been listening to their team members about which attributes they believe [are] most important for their respective institutions.

“Both banks chose the same four attributes,” said Rogers, who would not disclose what they were. “That was confirmation that we had a nice cultural match. I keep being asked about the name, and I keep focusing attention on the brand. A name is a name. We want to build a great brand. It’s culture building.”


In brief:

  • Good business read: The Observer’s Katherine Peralta had a nice piece Friday examining troubles at the Charlotte-based maker of Bubble Wrap. The company, Sealed Air, has fallen short of employment projections from 2014 — but don’t worry, it still hit requirements to collect its tax incentives.

  • New Gaston County neighborhood creates name: Not wanting to miss out on the trend of inventing cool-sounding names from whole cloth, business owners are planning a dog-friendly bar in northern Belmont, an area they are calling “NoBel.” (Charlotte Stories)

  • Charlotte baggage handling: American Airlines has opened a new baggage-handling facility at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. It is designed to make transferring the 50,000+ checked bags at the airport more efficient, an airline spokeswoman tells the Ledger. It opened in early May and is not visible to passengers.


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:


Miracle on ice

The Charlotte Checkers have brought a sports championship to Charlotte, beating the Chicago Wolves on Saturday to win minor-league hockey’s Calder Cup.

Even if you’re not a hockey fan, the final few seconds and celebration are fun to watch:

Free public celebration tonight (Monday) at 7 p.m. at Bojangles’ Coliseum.

The team’s mentality, according to coach Mike Vellucci

Win. We wanted to win. We accept no losing. We want to get better as players, obviously, but we want to win. There’s the skill part of it, but developing winners is something that organizationally we needed. Mediocrity is no longer tolerated in our organization. 


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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.