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Developer disinterest

Sites city agrees to buy along Independence Boulevard seen as turnoffs

CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte City Council relieved some east Charlotte residents with its decision to buy and demolish Charlotte Inn and a former Comfort Inn and Ihop along Independence Boulevard, properties long associated with crime and blight.

The Charlotte Inn is among the properties the city plans to buy. Photo by Nell Redmond

But a plan by the city to possibly sell a portion of that land has some developers saying good luck.

They cite poor access to the land, worries about crime and costs for redevelopment as likely repellents to developers.

Tom Brasse, managing director of residential development for Charlotte-based Faison, said there’s no way he’d be interested in any of the sites, thanks to their location along hard-to-exit Independence.

“Access-wise, it’s very difficult to get in and out of there,” Brasse said. “It would be too expensive” to develop.

According to the city, the Charlotte Inn site, at 2701 E. Independence Blvd., is 5.12 acres. The Comfort Inn and Ihop sites, at 2721 and 2715 E. Independence Blvd., respectively, comprise 2.76 acres.

Brad Richardson, the city’s economic development manager, said the city plans to sell only a portion of the eight acres. It’s unclear when the city might sell it, though, he said.

What he does know, he said, is that more than five acres, including the Charlotte Inn site, are in a floodplain, so no redevelopment is planned for that land. The city might to sell at least two acres, he said.

“We think there is some opportunity for some redevelopment on the Comfort Inn site,” he said. ”It really just depends on the market.

“If we think the market will support a redevelopment of these properties, we can move along a little quicker.”

As for what might be possible reuses of the site, Richardson offered no specifics.

But if developers share Bob Percival’s views, they might not want anything to do with the land. Percival, president of Charlotte-based Percival McGuire Commercial Real Estate, said access is almost nonexistent at the Charlotte Inn and adjacent sites.

“The limited access on the Independence freeway killed the viability of those sites in terms of hotels, bowling alleys and fast food,” Percival said. “Retailers demand visibility and access. It’s great to have visibility, but it’s useless without the access.”

At a Nov. 26 meeting, the City Council approved the buying of the sites, a week after Mecklenburg County commissioners blessed using county money for the purchase. All told, about $3.2 million from the city and county will be used to buy the properties and for demolition and infrastructure work, according to city documents. The county is chipping in the smallest amount, $730,000, with the city contributing the rest, $2.5 million.

The sales have yet to go through, Richardson said. The city is set to close on the Comfort Inn and Ihop property by the end of the year and is expected to close on the Charlotte Inn site no later than April 30, he said.

The acquisition and demolition of Charlotte Inn alone will cost taxpayers $511,000 and $575,000, respectively.

Taxpayers will pay $806,000 to buy the Comfort Inn and Ihop property and $440,000 for demolition of those buildings.

Independence Boulevard’s transition from a route that motorists could more easily exit to get to businesses to a six-lane freeway with walls dividing opposing traffic has hurt retailers along the boulevard. Indeed, access to property along Independence is what makes the Charlotte Inn, Comfort Inn and Ihop sites not all that attractive, developers say.

“The big issue would be what sort of access the site would have going forward,” said Jim Merrifield, managing partner of Charlotte-based Merrifield Patrick Vermillion. “The lack of access is why the current businesses were unable to succeed there and why no one was able to keep them up.”

Access is one issue. Concerns about crime, a key reason the city has decided to buy the properties, could also make it tough to do something with the land, developers say.

“If it was a high-crime area, it’s going to be very difficult to get people to invest more,” Merrifield said.

From Jan.1 to Dec. 2, 46 crimes were reported at Charlotte Inn, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s online database. It was the most crimes reported at any one property within a half-mile radius. Calls to police have ranged from nonaggravated assault to soliciting prostitutes to sudden or accidental death. Drug possession was the most common crime at Charlotte Inn, generating 14 calls to police.

Some who live nearby Charlotte Inn can’t wait to see it demolished and, hopefully, something else happen with the property.

“Crime will improve immediately once those buildings are torn down,” said Allison Billings, a board member for the association that represents the Commonwealth Park neighborhood.

Billings said she would like to see commercial development on the land in the future. And, despite the crime reports stemming from Charlotte Inn, she’s OK with another hotel opening there.

“There are plenty of hotels that we would be glad to have.”

Payton Guion can be reached at payton.guion@mecktimes.com.

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