After more than 30 years of amassing 23 acres of land in center city, Levine Properties’ First Ward development project had its groundbreaking ceremony Thursday afternoon.
The groundbreaking took place at the corner of East 7th and North Brevard streets, which is where the first phase of the project will be built.
Several city and county officials and representatives of Levine Properties, Rodgers Builders and UNC Charlotte addressed those who attended the ceremony.
Everyone who had a hand in breaking ground for the project was eager to officially begin development. Nearly every speaker said they’ve had to be very patient during the predevelopment process.
Daniel Levine, owner of Levine Properties, referred to the ground-breaking as a “30-year, overnight success.”
Levine announced the project’s renewal in September of last year after having to postpone its development because of the 2008 economic recession.
Since then, Levine has renegotiated public-private partnerships with both the Charlotte City Council and the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
“It’s not just a county project, it’s not just a city project, it’s our project,” First Ward Community Fund representative Bob Szymkiewics said during the ceremony.
The project received final approval from the City Council in late July, followed by the Board of County Commissioners in early August.
Since then, Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable and AT&T have installed overhead utilities so the project’s ground construction could begin.
Rodgers Builders, which has completed several development projects in the city’s First Ward, is taking on the construction.
Part of Levine’s city-county partnership included the restoration and building of public areas, such as roads and sidewalks, and this qualified Levine for an allowance of up to $23.7 million in property tax increment grants.
As opposed to receiving the grant allowance all at one time, Levine settled on a long-term allocation plan with city-county officials.
Levine will receive $16.7 of the city-county economic development grants if the construction of a parking deck with 935 spaces is completed by July 1, 2016, and will receive the remaining grant money if it builds 400 structured public parking spaces by Dec. 31, 2019.
Levine said he was confident in Rodgers’ ability to complete portions of the project on time, and within the allotted budget.
The project’s first phase will cost $84 million, and includes a park, some road work, two parking decks with a total of 1,700 spaces, and 200 apartments.
As part of the agreement between Levine Properties and Mecklenburg County, the park will be handed over to the county upon its completion. This park will represent the first public outdoor recreational area in the center city’s First Ward.
County Commissioner Trevor Fuller said the park completed the “four corners” of the city.
Plans for the park include multiple fountains, an outdoor dining area and a garden path, and it is expected to be completed in December 2015.
The park will serve as an anchor for the site’s future developments, which is why it is being built first.
“Parks offer something that no other piece of public infrastructure can offer, because it’s so free, it’s so communal, and yet it really does create great edges for activation,” said Michael Smith, president and chief operating officer at Charlotte Center City Partners.
He went on to say that parks “stretch” out the center city zone, and create new opportunities for residents, retailers and employment.
Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, said in an interview that he was not familiar with the plan’s details, but that “mixed use is something we support and like to see in Charlotte.
“Surface lots and single-family homes are the worst land uses. But town houses, apartments and condos are very appropriate housing types.”
The site for the park is adjacent to UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus building, which was also built by Rodgers.
“What a great front door this park will make to that continued traffic,” said UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois, in reference to the university’s students who attend classes in center city.
Dubois also said the park was in a great location considering the planned extension of the light rail along the property’s edge and development of a new station in the First Ward.
This is the first step of Levine’s $700 million development project, which will slowly come to fruition over the next 15 years.
His vision for an “urban village” will include the park, 1,500 apartments, 1.5 million square feet of offices, 350 hotel rooms, 350,000 square feet of retail space, three parking decks and new streets and sidewalks.
“We’ve been patient, and I believe that will allow us to look back and say we’ve made the right decision,” Levine said.