The Ellis – How LMC project marks a big step forward for uptown Charlotte’s North Tryon corridor

Charlotte Business Journal

March 6, 2019

Though the development technically began construction two months ago, city leaders and real estate developers on Wednesday celebrated the groundbreaking of a project that will start to fill in the many blanks within the North Tryon district.

That project, The Ellis, will bring 549 apartments in a 33-story high-rise and six-story midrise building with ground-floor retail space at Ninth and College streets. The project — whose front door will be on the Lynx Blue Line, the Charlotte Rail Trail and a new private street called Ellis Lane, which will have the ability to be closed to cars for festivals and other events — is being led by Lennar Corp.’s (NYSE: LEN) multifamily division, LMC, and will rise on a parcel that was for years owned by the Levine family.

“As a young banker, I had the privilege and opportunity to watch Hugh McColl and others take a leadership role in helping to preserve Fourth Ward, doing transformative projects like Gateway Center and also revitalizing First Ward,” said Jeff Harris, Carolinas division president at LMC. “In early 2016, when the Levine family chose to sell this site, the opportunity to do a mixed-use community here along the light rail overlooking this beautiful First Ward Park … was too good to pass up.”

The Ellis will include a range of housing sizes — from 550-square-foot studios to 2,700-square-foot penthouses, Harris said — as well as about 19,000 square feet of leasable retail space. Property features will include a fitness center, amenity area and pool deck on the top floor. Twenty-three penthouses will be on floors 29 to 32.

LMC purchased the property from Levine Properties in 2017 for $23 million.

Though not technically on North Tryon, much of First Ward is considered part of the district and is included in the North Tryon Vision and Implementation Plan, a guiding set of principles for what city groups like Charlotte Center City Partners and myriad public and private entities envision for 60 or so acres on or near North Tryon.

“This is a big move as we continue to transform the North Tryon district from many surface lots into a treasured TOD neighborhood,” said Michael Smith, president of CCCP.

In addition to major projects led by Mecklenburg County and others, an institutional group like LMC developing a high-density project in an area that, today, is quiet compared to the south side of uptown is seen as critical to draw more investment.

Charles Bowman, North Carolina market president at Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), said Wednesday he is excited to see The Ellis rise and for the North Tryon plan to start to become a reality through the project. The bank is involved in the North Tryon planning initiatives; the advisory committee is chaired by BofA executive Cathy Bessant.

“All of you who are a part of it or are going to be a part of it, thank you — if you’re not part of it yet, find another project, bring some capital to town and we’ll put it to work for you,” Bowman said.

David Furman of Centro Cityworks, who has been planning a mixed-use project that includes boutique office space and a grocery store in front of SkyHouse Uptown, underlined the importance of having a project like The Ellis in proximity to his land, on North Tryon between Ninth and 10th streets.

Furman has owned that property for years, having acquired it after seeing Tryon Street take off across a long period of growth. Bank of America and its predecessors acquired and developed much of the real estate on Tryon Street, including north of the Square, so it felt like a good bet that North Tryon would continue its trajectory.

But then, coming out of the last recession, center city real estate activity instead concentrated along the Stonewall corridor, South Tryon and South End. “The momentum pulling that way just sucked so hard on this end of town,” Furman said.

The continued hope is the tide is starting to turn. Furman noted the LMC site is about equidistant to Trade and Tryon streets as Legacy Union, where multiple towers are quickly rising at Stonewall and Tryon streets with anchors like Bank of America and Deloitte.

His own North Tryon project, 10Tryon, remains alive.

“We’ve got a big story to tell, but I need one more little thing to fall into place,” he said.

Daniel Levine, whose family owns several blocks in First Ward, said a project like The Ellis helps “set the tone” for the rest of First Ward insofar as density and mixture of uses. Levine is partnering with Raleigh-based Concord Hospitality on a hotel at Eighth and College, adjacent to LMC’s project on the same block. Levine declined to comment on other upcoming projects in the vicinity or whether his firm would sell land for others to develop, as it did with Lennar.

Levine Properties has been under construction on a massive parking deck at 10th and Brevard streets for almost four years, a project that still remains unfinished — it’s “mostly complete” but has some finishing specifications due, Levine said.

Wood-framed apartments by Levine Properties were originally planned to wrap that deck but Levine has since developed a new plan for the multifamily phase: a 12-story, concrete-frame building with more than 400 units. That project is through design development and is currently being priced with a general contractor, Levine said, though it’s not clear when those units might begin construction or deliver.

Thousands of residential units will potentially be added to the North Tryon district between public-led and private-sector projects, eventually setting the stage for other uses like office. Levine predicted that with The Ellis and the opening of the Blue Line Extension last year, First Ward will be “more popular than ever” and that Charlotte, including the North Tryon area, should be at the top of every site selector’s list.

“It’s up to all of us to fill in the missing pieces,” Levine said.