City optimistic about finding replacement for Centene complex; commercial expert says it could be tough

The large complex is searching for a new company to take over once construction is complete.
Centene announced yesterday it was backing out of plans to house its East Coast headquarters in University City.
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 6:49 PM EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A large office complex in northeast Charlotte is searching for a new company to take over once construction is complete.

Centene announced yesterday it was backing out of plans to house its East Coast headquarters in University City at the research park.

The complex was scheduled to open this year with over 800,000 square feet of space, welcoming more than 3,000 Centene employees to Charlotte.

University City Partners believe this site could present another great opportunity for the city.

One commercial expert says it’s possible, but it could be a lengthy process.

“The job lost does hurt a little bit,” Tobe Holmes, the executive director of University City Partners, said.

City leaders and partners are disappointed Centene will not open it’s East Coast headquarters in Charlotte – and bring the thousands of jobs, as originally planned.

“This begs the question a little bit, how does this become a huge opportunity for us in recruiting to an amazing class-a office building located in our research park,” Holmes said.

The nine-story building is up, and construction is nearly complete on a complex that was scheduled to open this year. Centene says it will continue construction on the site.

“We’re very well positioned to fill that building in the near term and not let this asset sit and languish, obviously Centene is motivated to help find a user for this building,” Holmes said.

WBTV talked to a commercial real estate broker about Centene backing out of plans for their headquarters, an issue that’s become common.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the real estate market across the nation has been affected, particularly in the office space because of the remote workforce,” Jay Hibert, a licensed real estate broker and the president of JBH Real Estate Experts, said.

The current market presents a challenge for Centene and the city, now searching for a corporation to take over the nearly complete complex.

“If you look at the market in general, this would not be an easy sale, the marketing time for an office building would exceed 1-year, probably go out as long as two years,” Hibert said.

He added that since the building is built for a headquarter location, that could add to the time it takes to find a buyer.

“The best thing to do for a property like this in my opinion is to own it, sell it to an investment group, or hold it and lease it to multiple companies, multiple businesses,” Hibert said.

As the site awaits its new owner, University City Partners remain hopeful the right company will come along.

“There are so many companies that do value that in-person interaction, and I have no doubt one of those will find their way to University City,” Holmes said.

Hibert said there’s a possibility the threat of a recession could make things tough.

The city tells WBTV it is working with Centene to market the site for a new opportunity.

Councilmember Renee Johnson said in a statement:

While I understand the decision of Centene’s leadership to cancel the plan for their East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, I am disappointed that those jobs won’t be coming to District 4.

However, Centene has committed to completing the facility, listing it, and working with our City’s leadership to market it and find other opportunities for our community. The facility will be a beneficial asset for the area’s future and I am committed to working with City staff, University City Partners, the community and other stakeholders to ensure that we fulfill our potential.

University City is an energetic and growing part of the region, we are the second-largest job area in Charlotte, with the second-largest institution in the UNC system. We have great transportation options, including the Blue Line & the Greenway, and we are focused on additional improvements as the area continues to grow.

I am honored to serve such a vibrant and diverse community, and am committed to the development and improvements that we have envisioned for the area. I will continue to focus on creating economic development for University City and for the entire district.

I am optimistic that we will deliver for the people of District 4!

Related: Centene backs out of Charlotte HQ move, city loses thousands of promised jobs, left with massive property with no tenant