‘Feeding frenzy’: I-485 loop, interchange drive construction, development

By: Abbie Bennett//February 21, 2013//

‘Feeding frenzy’: I-485 loop, interchange drive construction, development

By: Abbie Bennett//February 21, 2013//

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Apartments under construction in February at the Ridge at Highland Creek project. Photo by Abbie Bennett

CHARLOTTE — The pending completion of the Interstate 485 loop and the construction of an interchange at Prosperity Church Road have some area developers, real estate agents, city officials and residents buzzing about development possibilities for the area.

“Builders are coming in there and seeing a lot of opportunity because of 485, and that’s what is creating a feeding frenzy in this market among builders and developers,” said Jay Priester, vice president of development and leasing for Charlotte-based Cambridge Properties. “There are so many possibilities opening up in that area because of the future interchange.”

That interchange is set to be completed in 2014, along with the I-485 loop and interchange at I-485 and Interstate 85, according to Jen Thompson, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Cambridge is among the developers attracted to the area and is set to start construction on a 21-acre retail project called Huntersville Market this spring, Priester said. The project will be home to a pharmacy, a convenience store/gas station, bank branch and 15,000-square-foot medical office building. As the area “continues to get more dense,” Priester said, Cambridge will move into the project’s second phase, which would include a grocery store.

“Anytime you open up a major interstate, it creates better road networks and opens up a lot of land not easily accessible,” Priester said. “This drives household formation, and that’s something developers look for. That’s really going to drive it.”

Developers currently in the area, like Cambridge and Charlotte-based Charter Properties, which is building the Ridge at Highland Creek apartment complex on Prosperity Church Road, are also responsible for building the roads adjacent to their developments, Priester said.

“It’s creating this neat grid pattern near the interchange, which is going to make things really convenient,” he said. “People like to live close to interstates to get where they need to go, and now developers are a part of making that possible.”

John Porter, senior vice president of Charter Properties, said the completion of the I-485 loop and the future Prosperity Church Road interchange were huge factors in choosing the location for the Ridge at Highland Creek apartments.

“Apartment residents like convenience,” Porter said. “And there were very little apartments of any kind at all in the area. It has a good reputation as a place to live, which is attractive for residential and commercial development. It was a very good piece of land, and apartment residents make decisions based on convenience.”

The apartment project is not finished, and leasing hasn’t begun, but demand is there, Porter said.

“There is absolutely no question in my mind that we will reach desired capacity. I feel really good about that,” he said. “We’re getting more than 50 calls per week (inquiring about the apartments).”

Driving factor

Priester agreed that the I-485 project was a driving factor in the land purchased for the Huntersville Market development, but that the existing strength of the area also figured in.

“The Highland Creek area is one of the best subdivisions,” Priester said. “It’s really strong, even during the downturn of the market. We look at that, and that’s what drives us to look at retail sites. The overall area has very strong incomes.”

David Haggart, retail division partner with Childress Klein Properties, which owns The Shoppes at Highland Creek shopping center at 5806-5814 Prosperity Church Road, said the shopping center has a few vacancies. He added that the site has extra land that could be used for further development.

“We do think there will be additional demand that will support further development because of the 485 interchange,” Haggart said.

Near the shopping center is land set aside for the construction of a pair of buildings that will front I-485, on opposite sides of Loganville Drive, Haggart said. Those properties will be between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet.

“We haven’t really been marketing them yet,” Haggart said. “We have tenants pursuing us, but it’s a little early. Most won’t want to open until the freeway opens anyway, so we wouldn’t want to start construction any earlier than the first quarter of 2014.”

If the road projects stay on schedule, Haggart said, Childress would begin marketing the properties this summer and look to open in the first quarter of 2015.

“We would just have to wait for the roads,” he said. “It would be a bit difficult to open those buildings before the roadwork is finished. As far as possible tenants go, it’s too early to say.”

What all three developers agree on is that the area will be a draw for more developers, both residential and commercial, and that the residents of the surrounding communities are open to certain types of development.

“I think the area will stay more focused on residential and neighborhood service-type retail, since that’s what residents seem to favor,” Priester said “When we were developing, resident response was positive.”

He said residents near the future interchange are interested in maintaining a residential, community feel while having the advantage of some retail nearby.

Porter said Charter Properties also had “a pretty good response from residents.”

“There’s a very big pond in the middle of our site that they were concerned about us maintaining and making a focal point,” he said. “We intended to do that, as well as provide connections to the nearby (Shoppes at Highland Creek) that residents can walk to from our site. You always have a few people who just don’t want to see development, but most people were supportive. I’ve definitely experienced much more difficult zoning than I did there.”

Sprawl not wanted

Pamela Tate, 35, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Highland Creek subdivision, said she’s looking forward to more family-friendly development.

“We really like the Harris Teeter being so close to home,” Tate said. “And we’d like to see more things like this, maybe some restaurants and coffee shops and boutiques. We want things that are really good for families and that you can walk to.”

Joey Long, 40, a private tutor from University City, said residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the future Prosperity Church Road interchange wouldn’t welcome big-box stores.

“That’s just not what the people here are looking for,” Long said. “They want things that feel more homey. We definitely don’t want sprawling parking lots and giant chain stores. Local businesses that were on the street, with parking in back, would probably do a lot better.”

Taylor Ancy, 28, of Highland Creek, is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her two children.

“I think we’d just like to keep the area very much community-centric,” Ancy said. “We’d love to see more development come, more stores and restaurants, but we also don’t want a bunch of strip malls and convenience stores. The village feel is very important to the people who live here, and smart developers will understand that and do their best to fit in with what is already here. If not, they won’t be very welcome.”

‘Consistent with the community’s vision’

Michael Barnes, Charlotte City Councilmember representing District 4, said the new interchange “will allow for the development of residential retail and perhaps office uses — all consistent with the community’s vision for that area.”

Real estate agent Nadine Roberts, of Keller Williams Realty, said the new interchange will “open up a whole new opportunity for new (residential) construction, without a doubt.”

“You will see a huge amount of new communities because of the finished project. Right now, new construction is hot.”

Kent Main, planning coordinator for economic development in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, said the city is working on a land-use plan for the area. The plan should be completed this spring, he said.

Main echoed residents’ wishes for a walkable, village-type neighborhood, “which is what our plans call for in that area.”

“With Highland Creek and other development since 1999, the residential area is substantially built out, leaving this sort of doughnut in the center for future commercial, office or retail development in the center, which is basically going to be on the interchange,” Main said. “The biggest dilemma has been the economy up until now, along with the freeway. Retail development would have been hard here without it. But this interchange is going to change all that.”

Philip Corriher, a leasing specialist with The Chambers Group, who represents the Prosperity Shopping Plaza in the area, said retail and residential development stand to gain from the interchange.

“It will spur development and carry some of the developments that have kind of been stagnant and put them back on the fast track,” Corriher said. “We’ve only got one space available right now, but we have some spaces that we could build some additional retail at, and this (interchange) will definitely create some demand for that.”

Corriher said the most challenging obstacle for developers is “getting everyone’s heads wrapped around what the road network is going to look like.” But once the roads are in place, he said, “everything will fill out a little bit.”

The vacancy at the Prosperity Shopping Plaza is a former Blockbuster, a 4,000-square-foot space. Corriher said negotiations are under way with a tenant that he couldn’t disclose.

Corriher said there is “definitely” land available near the interchange for development.

“There’s at least half a dozen to a dozen listings available right now in that immediate interchange area,” he said. “Half are commercially zoned and half are residential, but about half of those residential listings are already intended to be rezoned as commercial.”

Main said Florida-based Publix has been interested in the area near the future interchange.

“I know they are looking in the area, and the upper part of the T intersection of Prosperity Church Road and Eastfield Road does include a zoning for a shopping center with a grocery store,” Main said. “Whether or not they’re looking into that site in particular, I don’t know for sure. But they have talked in theoretical terms, and there are no other sites in the area zoned for it right now.”

Bennett can be reached at (704) 247-2911, [email protected] or on Twitter at @AbbieRBennett.

(For more on how Huntersville is studying Eastfield Road, click here.)

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