CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte's skyline will soon have another prominent building, with a new apartment tower planned by developer Northwood Ravin on a site that's sat empty for a decade.
The 14-story building – part of a development to be called 500 West Trade – will be at the corner of Graham and West Trade streets, on the site of the decrepit Polk Building. That five-story building, which dates to 1925, was originally a car dealership and eventually became a state office building, but has been deteriorating since the last state workers moved out more than 10 years ago.
Scaffolding now rings the Polk Building to shield pedestrians from falling chunks of the facade. Aside from the Polk Building, most of the 2.8-acre site is occupied by asphalt parking lots.
David Ravin said the 14-story building will include 88 apartments. A six-story building wrapped around it will include 266 more, for a total of 354 residences on the site. The plans also include 8,400 square feet of street-level retail space, likely to be restaurants and cafes, and a plaza between the tower and the mid-rise building. The development will include two pools, with one on top of the tower.
"A lot of activity has happened on this side of town," said Ravin, president of Northwood Ravin. He pointed to the Gateway Station, an Amtrak station expected to open next to 500 West Trade Street in the 2020s, BB&T Ballpark and the Gold Line streetcar under construction in front of the planned project. Northwood Ravin also owns the Vue, a 51-story apartment building catty-corner to 500 West Trade.
Northwood Ravin won't be preserving the Polk Building as part of the new development. Ravin said the building is in bad shape, with the facade crumbling away and major interior damage. Preserving and reusing it would be too costly to justify, Ravin said.
"It's not something I take lightly," Ravin said of saving the Polk Building, "But it's easier to say, harder to do."
The building is a "bunker," said Ravin, with thick concrete walls, low ceilings and none of the interior character that developers often rediscover when they strip down old mills to their original brick walls and oversized windows. The developers will look to include elements from the Polk Building in the new project, perhaps as pavers or similar uses.
"I certainly think there's some emotional appeal when you drive down and see an old building in a new city like Charlotte," said Ravin. "It's easier to drive by and say that building should be preserved than to go in and preserve it."
Several architects have studied the building without finding a solution. "We always come to the same conclusion," said Ravin.
Ravin said construction is planned to start this year on 500 West Trade. The company is building another, similar project at Stonewall and Caldwell streets that also features a tower (20 stories in this case) and mid-rise wooden apartments. Lennar Multifamily is also building a similar combo high-rise/wood-framed apartment development adjacent to First Ward Park.
By having a mix of high-rise apartments built with steel and concrete and mid-rise apartments built with wood, Ravin said the new development would offer different price ranges, potentially making them easier to lease. The most expensive rents at new Charlotte apartments are typically found in towers, which cost the most to build. One-bedroom apartments at Ascent cost about $2,000 a month and up, for example. That 33-story tower opened last year.
The new plan from Northwood Ravin is at least the third iteration of a developer attempting to bring apartments and shops to the site. Trinity Capital Advisors in 2006 planned to develop a mixed-use project on that site, but those plans didn't materialize. In 2008, Trinity partnered with development firm Crosland, Ravin's employer at the time, to develop an eight-story, 400-unit luxury apartment building with shops on the ground floor. The economic crash and ensuing recession sunk those plans.
Now that Charlotte's real estate market has come roaring back, uptown is one of the busiest areas, with new office buildings, hotels, apartments and a Whole Foods all underway. According to Charlotte-based Real Data, the area has the highest average rent at $1,860 a month, along with almost 1,300 more high-end apartments under construction.
But all that new supply has pushed up apartment vacancy rates in Charlotte's center. Uptown saw the city's highest vacancy rate last year, at almost 22 percent, as more than 1,000 new apartments hit the market.
Ravin said he's keeping an eye on the new apartment supply. But he's confident that by the time 500 West Trade opens to renters in two or three years, the market will have soaked up a lot of the inventory that's flooding it now.