Phillips Place: goodbye movie theater, hello office tower

Plus: South Charlotte parents mobilize for school assignment battle; Margaret Marshall on proposed school changes; Ballantyne hospital progresses; Nucor thrives; 40 Over 40 awards *tonight*!

Good morning! Today is Monday, May 24, 2021. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C.

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Lincoln Harris plans 10-story office tower at Phillips Place on theater site; an ‘attractive building’ as part of ongoing upgrade

End of the line for Phillips Place theater? The center’s owner, Lincoln Harris, plans to submit a request this week to rezone the land for a “beautifully designed” 10-story office building. (Ledger photo by Stella Smolowitz)

by Tony Mecia

Nights at the movies in SouthPark could soon be coming to an end: The owner of Phillips Place, Lincoln Harris, is planning to replace the shopping center’s movie theater with a 10-story office building.

It’s part of a larger, longer-term upgrade of the center, which is home to the new RH Charlotte (Restoration Hardware), as well as shops, restaurants, a hotel and apartments. The move is also intriguing because it represents a vote of confidence in the market for Charlotte office space at a time when many people are wondering about the future of offices — as work-from-home and hybrid arrangements seem likely to stick around even as the pandemic ends.

The Ledger caught wind of the plans this weekend, and after we started asking around, Lincoln Harris released the following statement:

Lincoln Harris has plans to rezone a portion of Phillips Place in SouthPark to allow for construction of a 10-story office tower and adjoining parking structure where the current Regal Cinemas is located. Initial plans call for a beautifully designed building that will match the elegance of the newly renovated Phillips Place and blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

We have been in communications with Regal Cinemas throughout this process as they still have term left on their lease, and we will continue to communicate with them while city planners evaluate our proposed development.

A lawyer for the company, Collin Brown of Alexander Ricks, confirmed to The Ledger that he plans to file a rezoning petition involving Phillips Place this week.

Lincoln Harris disclosed nothing else publicly, but it shared a few additional details in the last week or so with leaders of the SouthPark Association of Neighborhoods (SPAN). Developers routinely clue in neighborhood leaders before filing rezoning requests in order to keep lines of communication open.

An email from SPAN to members last week said Lincoln Harris is planning a small amount of “grab and go” retail as part of the office building. The developer also has agreed to build a portion of The Loop on its property, the email said. The Loop is a 3-mile pedestrian trail that will encircle the SouthPark area.

Rob Aulebach, the association’s vice president, said SPAN understands the need to update Phillips Place as the area becomes more dense. He said Lincoln Harris showed a rendering of the office building that was impressive.

“It’s an attractive building — as best as you can tell from a drawing,” he said.

Aulebach said SPAN would probably have some routine concerns that it would work through with Lincoln Harris. He said he thought replacing a movie theater with an office building would have little if any effect on traffic.

“It’s the natural progression of densification in Charlotte,” said Aulebach, who lives in the Mountainbrook neighborhood.

In an October 2020 interview with The Ledger, asked about the future of the movie theater, Lincoln Harris CEO Johnny Harris said he had no idea what might eventually go there. “We could do all kinds of things, either in that location or within that building,” he said at the time.

Phillips Place, which opened in 1997 and was one of Charlotte’s first mixed-use centers, was most recently rezoned in 2017. Back then, the proposal for the movie theater was to convert it into “a full-service theater, including drinks and dinner, in a plush setting,” according to a presentation at the time. That rezoning allowed a building of up to 120 feet tall on the theater site.

Since Covid, though, the outlook for movie theaters has dimmed. The nearby Colony redevelopment, now under construction, scratched tentative plans for a new theater. The Manor Theatre in Eastover closed. Even before the pandemic, the Ballantyne Village theater shut and was converted into offices.

Future of offices: If you shook a Magic 8 Ball and asked it what would happen in the next few years with office space, it would probably say: “Reply hazy, try again.” On the one hand, some large Charlotte companies — notably Atrium Health and Duke Energy — have announced plans to cut the amount of office space they use, pointing to an anticipated increase in flex-work arrangements. On the other hand, employers might now want more space per worker, and companies are continuing to expand.

Local office brokers generally believe that the demand for office space in Charlotte will continue to increase, as growth will outpace any declines. Although construction of offices has continued during the pandemic, announcements of new projects have slowed.

Charlotte has about 55 million square feet of office space — plus an additional 4.7 million square feet under construction, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s most recent quarterly report. About half the new construction is uptown, a quarter is in Midtown/South End and the rest is in other suburban markets.

As far as new leases on office space, some of those suburban markets are recovering faster than uptown. SouthPark, for example, is “sort of back to pre-pandemic levels with activity,” says Rhea Greene, a partner with commercial real estate company Trinity Partners.

“A general trend we are seeing is the submarkets that have less corporate tenancy — that are smaller or more regional or local in nature — are definitely rebounding the fastest,” she said. That’s because smaller companies tend to be more nimble than corporate giants and can make faster decisions about their need for office space.

The elimination of the 10-screen Regal Phillips Place would leave no movie theaters in SouthPark. The closest to it is the AMC Park Terrace at Park Road Shopping Center, which was renovated in 2019.

The Phillips Place movie theater was once state-of-the-art. Upon its opening in 1996, the Charlotte Observer’s movie reviewer, Larry Toppman, referred to it as a “high-tech theater” with surround sound and “stadium seating.” (“Instead of walking up a ramp to get to the rear seats, you walk up steps.”) He also noted its “retractable armrests and cup-holders, useful for drinks (including bottled water and cappuccino) available at two concession stands.”

Related Ledger articles:

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

South Charlotte parents swing into action to combat school assignment proposal

South Charlotte parents have quickly started mobilizing to fight a school assignment proposal, in advance of a public hearing before the school board tomorrow night.

As The Ledger reported on Friday (🔒), Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is considering moving a World Languages magnet program from South Mecklenburg High to E.E. Waddell High, then shifting some students in the Myers Park High zone (those who attend Sharon—>Carmel or Olde Providence—>Carmel) to South Meck.

The proposal is being panned by South Meck parents, who say it makes no sense to lose the languages program, as well as by parents in the Myers Park zone who would prefer to stick with Myers Park.

CMS is moving swiftly: Parents learned of the proposal only last week, at a series of online meetings. And the public hearing on it is scheduled for Tuesday. The school board could vote in June or July.

So parents have geared up in the last few days:

  • Yard signs have popped up at the entrances to neighborhoods that go to Sharon, including Wilton Wood, Huntcliffe, Carmel Wood, Woodbridge, Summerlake, Singing Springs and Pellyn Grove:

  • A student has organized an online petition — “Save South Meck High School.” It had nearly 600 signatures as of this morning.

  • Parent leaders at South Meck are encouraging as many students as possible to speak at tomorrow’s board meeting. They’ve also developed a position paper that outlines alternatives to moving the languages magnet.

Bigger than Waddell: “We are rallying very quickly to see what we can do to influence the decision,” says Staci McBride, a South Meck parent who chairs the school’s School Improvement Team. “This feels like it’s happening under the radar. It’s happening very quickly. … We’re just trying to make sure people understand that is not just about populating Waddell. It affects two or three other high schools pretty dramatically.”

She said parents have started emailing board members, although it’s unclear where many of them stand on the issue. Their replies tend to be along the lines of “thank you for sharing your thoughts about this important matter,” McBride said.

The school board meeting is tomorrow at 6 p.m. It can be viewed on the CMS Board of Education Facebook page.

➡️ Bonus scoop: We’re hearing from our in-the-know sources that at Tuesday’s meeting, there will be news regarding the planned high school in Ballantyne. Perhaps a land purchase? The 80-acre site under consideration, along Johnston Road north of I-485, is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. The most recent plan called for it to be split between CMS and Woodfield Development, which wanted to build a few hundred apartments, The Ledger reported in September. The site still seems to be a go for a new school, as the City Council tonight is expected to approve granting CMS a 0.9-acre adjacent parcel as part of a land exchange. CMS plans for the school to open in 2024. —TM

Margaret Marshall: Overcrowding needs to be addressed. I know this is emotional. I am listening.

The Ledger asked CMS school board member Margaret Marshall, whose district includes Myers Park and South Mecklenburg high schools, to weigh in on the proposed school assignment changes. Her response:

First off, I know that any reassignment of students is a very emotional experience for everyone. I think high school is particularly difficult.

There is much conversation about the scenarios presented last week. No decisions have been made and the scenarios presented aren’t final plans. These plans often change as the process moves forward. I will say that with the opening of a new high school from the 2017 bond and the reopening of Waddell as a high school, there will be movement in several feeder patterns in the southern part of the county over the next several years. Myers Park High School, South Meck and Ardrey Kell are the three largest high schools in the state, and their overcrowding issues have been discussed for some time. However, things get very personal and emotional when it is your family who might have to make one of those moves.

There are surveys coming out around this reassignment, and I encourage folks to fill those out so that CMS can capture the feedback. I am listening to feedback and balancing the individual desires of families with the need to address overcrowding and plan for the future.

Ledger to reveal 40 Over 40 award winners

It’s the moment all of Charlotte has been waiting for — and it’s coming later today.

Join hosts Cristina Bolling and Tony Mecia for the 2nd Annual Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 Awards. Look for an email late this afternoon with the short and snappy online awards gala, viewable exclusively on YouTube. We’ll release the names in a special edition tomorrow morning.

As we did last year, we’re honoring 40 people* aged 40 and up who are making Charlotte a better place. We took nominations, wise Gen Z and millennial judges voted and tonight … we’re announcing the winners.

It’s a low-key event: no pay-to-play country club dinners, no droning speeches, no hectoring from us to buy full-page congratulatory ads. Just an honest celebration. Winners receive a vintage 40 Over 40 beverage koozie and an award certificate suitable for framing.

Look for it!

* we actually have 41 winners this year because of a tie! It’s the largest 40 Over 40 ever!

Digging Ballantyne

LAST YEAR, RED STRAWBERRIES. THIS YEAR, RED CLAY: The 38-acre site of the former Hall Family Farm in Ballantyne is now cleared of trees and a screw pile is at work for a new Novant hospital at Providence Road West and Johnston Road. The $180M project will include a hospital and a medical office building. The Hall Family Farm, meanwhile, has moved across the South Carolina border to 445 W. Rebound Road in Lancaster.

In brief:

  • Staffing woes are hampering recovery: The tight job market will weigh heavily on the state’s economic recovery until this fall, according to Wells Fargo economists. North Carolina’s supply of workers continues to be limited because of Covid risks, childcare needs and the extension of unemployment benefits that often pay more than some workers earned from their jobs. North Carolina’s unemployment rate for April was 5%, compared with the national rate of 6.1%.

  • Cherokee-Catawba casino fight: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is fighting a judge’s ruling that allowed the rival Rock Hill-based Catawba Indian Nation build a North Carolina casino. The Cherokees sued after the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Catawbas’ application to take land in Kings Mountain into trust for a Two Kings Casino Resort that’s under construction on the property. In an earlier suit, the Cherokees argued that historically the land was theirs and the federal government violated U.S. law in granting the land for the Catawbas. (Observer)

  • Get ready to sweat: Temperatures will be in the 90s this week, approaching or breaking records, meteorologists say. Highs at Charlotte Douglas International Airport are expected to reach 93 today and Tuesday and 95 on Wednesday. Thursday is expected to hit 94, and Friday may hit 92. Highs typically average in the low 80s in Charlotte during the last two weeks of May. (Observer)

  • Vaccinated but still masking: A survey by the Charlotte Observer reveals that many of the newspaper’s readers are continuing to wear masks even though they are fully vaccinated. Federal health guidelines say that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.” Explanations for continuing to wear masks included “I feel like it’s kind of a courtesy” and “I don’t want to appear as if I am an ‘anti-masker.’” (Observer)

  • High Point University adds dental school: High Point University is investing $150M to open its School of Dental Medicine and Oral Health in 2023 with an initial enrollment of 32 students. It tagged Dr. Scott DeRossi, the former dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Adams School of Dentistry, as its founding dean. (Business NC)

  • 2040 Plan update: The City Council is expected to receive an update on the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan at its meeting tonight. WFAE also has an edition of “Charlotte Talks” dedicated to the topic this morning at 9 a.m., featuring guests Ely Portillo of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and Ashley Fahey of the Charlotte Business Journal.

  • Historic Charlotte: The City Council is expected to set public hearings tonight for five new historic landmark designations: Edgewood Plantation, the Ervin Building, the Larkwood-Chadbourn Hosiery Mill Plant, the Victor Shaw House and the William H. Peeps House.

A changing of the intern guard at The Ledger — farewell to David Griffith, hello to Lindsey Banks

Lindsey Banks (left) is The Ledger’s summer reporting intern. David Griffith is a newly minted Queens University of Charlotte graduate who interned for The Ledger from March 2020 until earlier this month.

Today, we bid a warm welcome and a fond farewell to two members of The Ledger team.

First, we’re delighted to introduce you to our summer reporting intern, Lindsey Banks.

Lindsey is a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill, and she’ll be writing and reporting stories for The Ledger until early August. She’s majoring in journalism and minoring in public policy, and she’s got some solid internships under her belt, with both a local news non-profit in Chapel Hill called The Local Reporter, and as a writer and researcher for MountainTrue, an environmental non-profit near her hometown of Asheville.

One exciting aspect about Lindsey’s paid internship is that it’s a collaborative one: She’ll be writing for both The Ledger and QCity Metro, a local digital news outlet dedicated to covering Charlotte’s Black community.

Outside of journalism, Lindsey’s interests include painting, reading, running and hiking. Look for her byline on Ledger stories throughout the summer.

And as summer arrives, we bid a fond farewell to David Griffith, who’s been our college reporting intern at The Ledger since March 2020.

David graduated from Queens University of Charlotte earlier this month with a major in multimedia storytelling, and we were lucky to have his skills and enthusiasm. His storytelling prowess shined with his Beloved Business series last summer, as he chronicled how businesses were surviving through the pandemic, and he reported a host of other stories, on topics ranging from e-sports to chess.

David’s on the hunt for a journalism job. We’re excited to see where he lands.

The Ledger’s mission is to improve the quality of local information in Charlotte by building a media company designed for the future. We’re energized by helping to shape the next generation of responsible local news journalists.

One final intern-related topic: The Ledger is still accepting applications for our 2021-22 academic year paid reporting internship, open to college students with some writing experience. Know someone who might like to apply? Spread the word. — CB

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:

Quotable: Steel’s comeback drives Nucor surge

From The New York Times on Friday:

Steel prices are at record highs and demand is surging, as businesses step up production amid an easing of pandemic restrictions. Steel makers have consolidated in the past year, allowing them to exert more control over supply. Tariffs on foreign steel imposed by the Trump administration have kept cheaper imports out. And steel companies are hiring again.

Evidence of the boom can even be found on Wall Street: Nucor, the country’s biggest steel producer, is this year’s top performing stock in the S&P 500, and shares of steel makers are generating some of the best returns in the index.

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory