Matthews is building an 'entertainment district'

Plus: Emails show UNCC leaders blindsided by Wake med school news; Atrium accused of 'veiled threat'; Banks battle over Truceratops the taco-eating dinosaur

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Luxury apartments could be the first step toward huge suburban multi-use development

No longer a sleepy suburban bedroom community on Charlotte’s outer edge, the town of Matthews is taking a big step toward realizing its vision of an “entertainment district” of more than 100 acres beside the town’s Sportsplex.

Developer Proffitt Dixon has broken ground on 359 luxury apartments in six four-story buildings off Matthews-Mint Hill Road that it says “will serve as the front door to Matthews’ ENT District, which is an entertainment and lifestyle center anchored by the Sportsplex of Matthews.”

A 359-unit apartment development that broke ground a couple months ago is raising hopes about the future of Matthews’ “entertainment district.” Will more development follow?

Town officials say they think the apartments will help launch restaurants, retail shops and maybe office space and perhaps eventually a hotel in a pedestrian-friendly area close to recreation facilities – the type of multi-use developments that are becoming popular in other areas outside Charlotte’s center city.

Matthews has envisioned such a development for about 20 years. But only in the last few months has Proffitt Dixon cleared the space, getting the project off the ground. The Sportsplex, completed in 2017, provided a boost, and future light rail, planned road extensions and proximity to Matthews’ newly bustling downtown, they say, should draw additional investment to the “entertainment district.”

“This means we are finally getting some activity going on,” town commissioner John Urban tells the Ledger. “The good news is, this developer is the catalyst now. … We’re slowly getting some momentum.”

Town on the move: He says a lot has changed in the town. Five years ago, Urban says, nobody was on the streets downtown after 5 p.m. — which is what you used to hear about uptown Charlotte in the early 1990s. Today, Matthews has more than 30 bars and restaurants in its downtown area, and it’s a lively scene: “We now have things like Great Harvest Bread Co., Edible Art, things we didn’t have before. Matthews is now a destination. There’s no doubt about it.”

Population of Matthews: 33,000.

Apartment features sound familiar: The apartments, tentatively known as 1100 Matthews, have features that sound like those at other complexes around the Charlotte area. The Proffitt Dixon website says:

Residents will have access to amenities located in each building, including ample maker and crafting space, a private sports lounge, canteen and market area, dog spa, bike storage and training facility, beer garden club area, a state of the art fitness center, saltwater pool, resident lounge, balconies and patios, wi-fi access, hammock relaxation area, fenced dog park, large grilling stations, co-working space, outdoor courtyard area, walking trails, and a 24-hour accessible package room.

Town planners expect construction to last a year to 14 months.

Proffitt Dixon is the developer behind the Savoy and Presley uptown and the Lowrie in Ballantyne. Principal Wyatt Dixon didn’t return a phone call Tuesday.

In an article this week for UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, an architecture professor said that one big trend in Charlotte right now is “retrofitting the suburbs” – and it cited areas such as Ballantyne, SouthPark and University City. “It’s a sort of inexorable trend ... We’re adding the convenience and amenities of the suburbs they haven’t had,” he said.

A rendering from 2014 shows one vision of what Matthews’ “entertainment district” could look like. The green area on the right is the Sportsplex, completed in 2017.

Emails: Dubois and UNCC administrators were surprised by Atrium-Wake med school plans – “Whaaaaa?!?!”

Top UNC Charlotte leaders were totally blindsided by the news in April that Atrium Health and Wake Forest University were collaborating to bring a medical school to Charlotte, according to university emails obtained by the Ledger under the state’s public records law.

After that announcement, the emails show, several UNCC alumni wrote to Chancellor Phil Dubois blasting him for blowing the school’s chance to land a medical school — including one that called for his firing and another that said Dubois was ensuring that “the University remains a third rate diploma mill.”

Behind the curtain: The emails provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the reactions of some top university officials as they learned that their attempts to start a medical school in Charlotte were being circumvented by the Atrium-Wake alliance. Dubois had co-written an op-ed for the Observer that appeared March 22 – titled “Time isn’t right for a medical school in Charlotte” – saying he didn’t think a public medical school in Charlotte was politically or financially feasible.

Just three weeks later, on Wednesday, April 10, Atrium and Wake announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding to work on creating a medical school.

But the emails indicate that Dubois was in the dark about those plans.

He emailed Atrium CEO Gene Woods on April 3 to see if they could schedule a call to discuss “the topic that won’t die,” a reference to the medical school issue, following a visit by a medical-school booster. “Just want to make sure you and I are on the same page,” Dubois wrote to Woods.

Woods replied to Dubois: “Phil I’m tied up for the next few days but how about I give you a call next Tuesday?” – the day before Woods planned to announce Atrium’s plans with Wake, in what sounds like an attempt to give Dubois a courtesy heads-up. Dubois said he would have their assistants try to schedule a Tuesday call, which was complicated by Dubois’ travel schedule, since, he wrote, he planned to return from the Final Four that Tuesday morning.

There is no indication from the emails whether the two talked.

But after the announcement on Wednesday, there were tons of emails flying around as UNCC administrators tried to make sense of it:

  • Shortly after the announcement, Dubois’ chief of staff sent a copy of the Charlotte Business Journal’s article about the medical school to UNCC trustees, promising that Dubois would brief them on the development.

  • About 20 minutes later, Rick Tankersley, UNCC’s vice chancellor for research and economic development, wrote Dubois’ chief of staff: “Wow, didn’t see this coming.”

  • Kevin Bailey, UNCC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, wrote to Dubois’ chief of staff: “Whaaaaa?!?!” with the “Scream” emoji beside it.

Then, the hate mail started pouring in.

At 11:46, someone with the email address that starts with “nineradvocate” wrote: “Great job on the medical school, you spineless cuck! Wake freaking Forest. … I guess I should also be congratulating you for doing the job you were hired to do: ensure that the University remains a third rate diploma mill.” Dubois forwarded it to a couple staff members, calling it “fan mail.”

In the afternoon, an alum wrote to the board of trustees, calling for Dubois to be fired. Dubois forwarded it to Woods, the Atrium CEO: “One of several, just so you know.”

Woods replied: “That is totally and completely unfair of them Phil. Really and truly sorry to hear.”

In response to a more polite alum who wrote in, Dubois said that the challenges of establishing a public medical school, the project he was working on with UNC officials, are much different than the private medical school Wake and Atrium are envisioning: “Don’t know enough details yet to say, but private is different than public, as you know, and the finances of doing this are much different for us/UNC than it would be for WF.”

Truliant thinks its customers might be confused that Truceratops works for Truist Bank

Seems as though last week, nobody much cared for the name “Truist Bank,” the combination of BB&T and SunTrust that plans to move its HQ to Charlotte after the deal closes later this year.

So that makes it even worse that the Truist name is now the subject of a lawsuit from Truliant Federal Credit Union, which has 32 branches in the Carolinas and Virginia.

At its core, it’s a battle over which financial institution will have the right to make awful puns using the prefix “Tru.” Truliant, in its federal court filing, lays out its long history of groaners, including:

  • “TruFinancial Checkup” (financial counseling, since 2006)

  • “Tru2Go” (mobile app, since 2015)

  • “TRUism” (piece of financial advice, since January 2019)

And, of course, who can ignore the confusion that would stem from “Truceratops,” the name of the cartoon dinosaur Truliant unveiled in 2018 to teach financial literacy through the “Dino Dollar Kids Club.” An attachment to the court filing (below) says Truceratops lives in North Carolina, “where I love to snack on veggie tacos and teach kids really cool stuff about money.” (Really.)

Truist Bank, keep your hands off Truceratops! In an exhibit to the lawsuit, Truliant admits it created a cartoon dinosaur mascot whose name is a play on the word “Truliant.”

An intellectual-property lawyer told the Observer the lawsuit will hinge on “how likely a consumer is to get confused between the two banks.”

A law professor told American Banker that Truist will probably argue that “while Truliant may have registration rights to the mark ‘Truliant’ and other marks that start with ‘Tru,’ it does not hold exclusive rights to everything prefixed with ‘Tru.’”

About the best we can hope for is for the case to be overseen by one of those no-nonsense Southern judges like you see on TV, who tells Truist and Truliant to knock off their silliness and get real bank names.

Atrium to state: Nice hospital system we have here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.

It sounds as though Charlotte’s biggest employer, Atrium Health, tried to throw its weight around at a meeting of state officials this month — and lost.

That’s the picture that emerges from some solid reporting, first by David Mildenberg of Business North Carolina magazine and followed Nick Ochsner of WBTV. It’s especially noteworthy because the underlying story involves a healthcare merger and issuing bonds, which sounds deadly dull — especially for TV news, which usually favors stories starting with: “Police are on the scene …”

In short: Atrium was trying to get the state’s blessing to back the issuance of $300M in bonds to refinance debt connected with Atrium’s purchase of a Georgia healthcare system, Navicent. But state officials, members of an obscure panel called the Local Government Commission, declined to back the bonds, saying it wasn’t clear that Atrium’s purchase of a Georgia company benefits North Carolinians.

During the debate, Atrium’s CFO, Anthony DeFurio, “said the hospital could look at moving its business operations if it was unable to secure the commission’s approval,” people at the meeting told WBTV. The state auditor told the Observer she took DeFurio’s statement as a “veiled threat.”

Under pressure to explain himself on Tuesday, though, DeFurio said it was all a big misunderstanding:

While my choice of words could have been more thoughtful and were initially misinterpreted by Commission members, at no time during the meeting, or during my following conversation with the LGC when asked to clarify my comments, did I intend to insinuate or make any threat regarding Atrium Health’s future in North Carolina.

Maybe. Or maybe Atrium was trying to use its size and influence to gain a political and financial advantage, failed, then got called on it. You decide.

In brief

  • New low-fare airline: Spirit Airlines starts service from Charlotte on Thursday. It is flying nonstops to Newark, N.J.; Baltimore; Orlando; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and fares are low. But beware: The airline charges for assigned seats, baggage and other “extras.”

  • Republicans to party all night: Bars, nightclubs and restaurants would be allowed to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties between Aug. 22 and Aug. 30, 2020, under legislation moving through the General Assembly, the Observer reports. Those are roughly the dates of the Republican National Convention.

  • Another county tax increase? Mecklenburg County leaders are weighing a sales-tax hike to support the arts, the Observer says.

  • Job listing: “Reynolds Wrap is on the hunt for its next ‘Chief Grilling Officer,’ who will travel for two weeks in August to find America’s best barbecue ribs and go home with a $10,000 paycheck,” Fox News says. Hurry, applications close tonight.

Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Concert tickets
  • Guns N’ Roses: Tickets to Sept. 25 concert at Spectrum Center go on sale Friday at 10am. (Patch)

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Toy Story 4: (G) (98% on Rotten Tomatoes): Woody takes unexpected trip

  • Anna: (R) Assassin does her thing

  • Child’s Play: (R) Sinister doll movie remake

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Avengers: Endgame (PG-13) (94%)

  • Rocketman (R) (89%)

  • John Wick 3 (R) (89%)

  • Late Night (R) (79%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Charlotte to Newark, N.J., $80 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates July -October.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $68 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates July - October.

  • Charlotte to Las Vegas, $206 round-trip on American (nonstop), Aug. 17-20.

  • Charlotte to Panama City, Panama, $273 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Aug. 26-Sept. 4.

  • Charlotte to Bogota, Colombia, $318 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Sept. 4-10.

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

Got a news tip? Think we missed something? Drop me a line at editor@cltledger.comand let me know.

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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.