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Chiquita finds NASCAR Plaza appealing

Chiquita Brands International ended months of speculation today when it announced that it will relocate its worldwide headquarters to Charlotte from Cincinnati.

It’s new home: NASCAR Plaza, built in 1999 and, according to a March Mecklenburg Times story, featuring a 61 percent vacancy rate.

A 19-story office complex at 550 South Caldwell St. that connects to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the building’s owners are still in negotiations with Chiquita, the banana company’s CEO, Fernando Aguirre, said during a press conference today. NASCAR Plaza and building owner Trinity Capital Advisors could not be immediately reached for comment.

Trinity might be open to rebranding the structure for Chiquita, officials say.

Some observers, such as Todd Williams, vice president of investments with Charlotte-based Grubb Properties, expect the relocation to boost office rates in uptown. Associated vendors who are relocating with Chiquita would probably impact office complexes on the outskirts of uptown, too, he said.

“We’ve been doing commercial real estate in Charlotte for almost 20 years,” he said. “I can think back to when Transamerica relocated, and a couple of these financial operations relocated, and we saw that kind of impact.”

“Typically, with headquarters relocations you’ll tend to get some vendor who comes on the coattails, so you’ll have some vendor companies or associated companies that will open a regional office in response to those relocations.”

Williams said it the relocation could help with the absorption of apartments.

“We’re excited about it on the multifamily side,” he said. “Office space means jobs, and people need to live near those jobs. We have apartments near uptown, and so the timing couldn’t be better. It really shows how resilient our economy is and how attractive it is for businesses like Chiquita.”

According to the Mecklenburg Times story from March, NASCAR Plaza’s rent is about $24.50 per square foot, and about 241,107 square feet of office space is unoccupied. The building is a 390,000-square-foot high-rise adjacent to the Charlotte Convention Center and the Lynx Blue Line light-rail system. It has 3,800 square feet of retail space.

Indianapolis-based Lauth Group developed the building, but the company fell on hard times in 2009 and the office tower went into foreclosure after Lauth defaulted on its loan.

Charlotte-based Trinity Capital Advisors teamed with Philadelphia real estate investment firm Rubenstein Partners and bought NASCAR Plaza in December. Ally Center, a 15-story, 365,000-square-foot office tower at 440 South Church St., is considered by many to be NASCAR Plaza’s biggest competitor.

Baughman can be reached at scott.baughman@mecktimes.com.

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