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For Charlotte developers, love, not efficiency, is in the air

“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang, and in this month of St. Valentine this epithet has struck Charlotte’s market dead on.

Developments that are built on an aging model of efficiency are not working anymore. Those that are blossoming in this springtime hope of recovery are projects built with love. And developer Peter Pappas seems to know a thing or two about that.

The development of Metropolitan by Pappas Properties, beginning with the uncapping of the greenway in 2002 and culminating with Home Depot’s walk of shame away from the project last year, is a relationship that depicts the age-old battle of efficiency vs. love when it comes to progress and development in Charlotte.

Humans have always had a penchant for efficiency and desire for love. In the ‘60′s and ‘70′s this translated into development of skyscrapers surrounded by parking lots and central green spaces. This was the vision of the future, and efficiency was the vehicle to take us there.

For Charlotte this meant constructing a parking lot over a natural stream — Little Sugar Creek Greenway, where Metropolitan is now — servicing Charlottetown Manor assisted-living center, a former Ramada Inn built in 1968. Why not? Efficiency argued — with codified planning demanding four parking spaces for every 1,000 feet at the time — it made sense to order up a supersized parking lot with a dash of erosion and pollution on the side regardless of the effects on quality of life.

Love, however, puts human relationships and interactions first above all else. “Intentional development,” as seen in planned communities such as Phillips Place and Birkdale Village — both by Pappas Properties — is the calling card of developers in our city today.

By valuing walkability, green space and community, people are given an opportunity to not just survive, but thrive. This can be applied to many areas of development, including transit and affordable housing, both hot topics on the City Council docket and areas that will be a consistent piece in building successful mixed-use projects in Mecklenburg County from now on.

The old partnership of developer meets consumer and produces a fat little profit is gone. The new love triangle entangles city planners with developers and consumers playing the part of both love interest and taxpayer. A great example of this is Metropolitan at Charlottetowne Avenue.

After acquiring the land that now boasts a renovated greenway and a lucrative mixed-use development, Home Depot pursued negotiations with the city for rezoning. In over their heads, they brought in none other than our featured Casanova, Peter Pappas, along with Collet and Associates. This partnership, along with the taxpayers’ resources, was like a date at the Palm with an evening at the Ritz — a sure thing.

Now you had big-box retail coming into center city, high-end to midrange lofts and a retail pocket anchored by Best Buy, Marshalls and Trader Joe’s. The redevelopment of Little Sugar Creek Greenway that officially opened in August was like the engagement ring that tied this beautiful relationship together. Unfortunately, the honeymoon didn’t last long.

Home Depot, after losing the right to sell lumber in the original rezoning negotiations with city planners, opened Home Depot Design Center in 2007, a boutique version of their commercial store. Unfortunately, like a third wheel on the date, when the economy bottomed out, they had to shut down.

Now it remains to be seen what will fill the empty space in the heart of Charlotte’s old Midtown mall. Many tenants have been rumored, but the empty box at the bottom of the Target reminds us that, despite its uncommon bliss, love hurts.

On the other hand, Metropolitan Terrace and MetLofts have done well. MetLofts sold all of its units last year, while the luxury products offered at MetTerrace are slower to sell at the higher price point.

Three new restaurants have opened this year, a huge success in the face of such a commercial downslide, while the renovated greenway is filled with spandex and strollers every weekend, bringing in more business as the weather improves. Ironically, it seems as though love has made things even more efficient than before.

Now, with love as the model, developments like Seigle Point along 10th Street have replaced claustrophobic barracks with green space and a sense of dignity to its residents. Not as efficient in numbers, but much more desirable in duration. Another worthy attempt is the mixed-use development at Scaleybark Road led by Scaleybark Partners — Pappas properties once again — that will combine a transit park and ride with 80 subsidized rental units. The project has been delayed until 2012, however; not quite enough love from the government as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership failed to win funding through the low-income housing tax credit program.

Pappas is also plugging ahead, together with Allen Tate, to build Ashley Park at Fairview and Sharon, another try at the mixed-use love triangle involving city cooperation. It’s already set for build-to-suit office suites and will bring a 120-room hotel and green space that conveniently connects to Phillips Place.

So the question remains: As much as love is in the air, will it be enough to keep development on its feet? The success at Metropolitan, coupled with hope for affordable housing, seems that, indeed, love may conquer all.

Joanna Reule is a Realtor and broker at Cottingham Chalk Hayes. She can be reached at jreule@cchrealtors.com or cchrealtors.com.

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