CHARLOTTE – More than 9 acres tax-valued at $45.3 million on Uptown’s South Tryon Street corridor, the past decade’s busiest development hotspot in the central business district, could be on the market as early as next year.
The Charlotte Observer last week announced its purchase of the Dow Jones publishing company’s 9-acre printing plant property in the University area and its possible move out of the low-rise but highly visible main building on South Tryon Street overlooking the John Belk Freeway.
That, in turn, would mean the paper could be looking for offices for its white-collar staff, which Observer publisher Ann Caulkins said she wants to remain uptown and in a building with room for a shingle to hang.
“Signage is important,” Caulkins said.
The deal means the paper is no longer anchored to 600 S. Tryon by its outdated and operationally expensive Flexo presses, Caulkins said. And she acknowledged that layoffs, buyouts and attrition have made the 1971 building underutilized, and that the demands of digital journalism have made it outdated.
Just across the freeway from South End’s rising new apartment buildings, next door to Duke Energy’s “power tower,” near Bank of America Stadium and BB&T Ballpark, and surrounded by at least four in-the-works development projects, 600 S. Tryon is “no doubt, a great locale,” said John Culbertson, a broker with Cardinal Partners.
That address – the site of two Observer buildings since 1927 and owned by the pension fund of the newspaper’s owner, The McClatchy Co. – could be in play as soon as the Dow deal closes this month and press operations move out in the first quarter of the new year, according to Caulkins’ announced timetable.
The property, bounded on the other three sides by the freeway, and South Mint and West Stonewall streets, comprises six tracts, a warehouse, a one-level parking deck, a small rail-access yard and a former company-car gas station that kept reporters on the prowl after Hurricane Hugo. The 360,000-square-foot main building – a classic example of its era’s Brutalist architecture designed by Charlotte-based Pease Associates – was estimated to be worth $21 million in the 2011 Mecklenburg County tax revaluation.
But its design would probably not be enough to save it from the wrecking ball, said Dennis Marsoun of Church Street Realty. “It’s a one-purpose building with a huge printing press in the basement,” he said. “The property has more value as just land.”
Culbertson agreed about the value.
“There’s just a lot of momentum headed in that direction,” he said. “There are a lot of apartments being built just across the John Belk Freeway, Trinity (Partners) and Portman Holdings have a 15-story office project proposed right next to the Westin (at East Stonewall and South College streets), Crescent (Communities) has assembled most of the block between South Tryon and South College streets across Tryon from The Observer, where the Firestone is, and then there’s the new ballpark.”
Culbertson also mentioned that the idea, first introduced in 2009 and revived again early this year, of putting a three-block-wide “cap” over the freeway that would support development linking uptown and South End, has been getting a lot of recent buzz, too. The Observer property occupies two-thirds of the Uptown landing of the planned bridge, which would span the freeway from Church Street to the Blue Line tracks.
But both Culbertson and Marsoun had caveats.
“Is now the right time to build offices uptown, with a lot of people scratching their heads over about the uptown office market?” Culbertson asked. “Is this a good apartment location?”
Marsoun said: “It would take a special person to take 9 acres and do something game-changing. Someone could buy it and sell the individual parcels.”
Disclosure: Mecklenburg Times staff writer Tony Brown worked at The Wichita Eagle from 1985-88, and at The Charlotte Observer from 1988-1999, while both papers were owned by Knight Ridder Inc. The 14 years of credit he accumulated in the Knight Ridder pension program were transferred to the McClatchy Co.’s pension fund after McClatchy bought most of Knight Ridder’s holdings in 2006.