By Ely Portillo via The Charlotte Observer
When Florida-based Ram Realty Services sold the Design Center of the Carolinas for $42.7 million earlier this week, the company hung on to three acres of property around the South End center’s buildings.
Now, Ram Realty CEO Casey Cummings says the firm is focused on building a new, mixed-use development on the site, much of which is currently occupied by surface parking lots.
“Surface parking lots are really a waste of a valuable resource” in a dense, urban corridor, Cummings said. The land is along Camden Street, between Worthington Avenue and West Boulevard.
Asana Partners, the Charlotte-based company that bought the Design Center buildings, plans to convert much of the square footage to new shops and restaurants. Combined with the new Ram Realty development and other ongoing projects nearby, that whole stretch of South End will soon look much different.
Cummings, the Ram Realty CEO, said he hopes to start construction on the new mixed-use development in the second half of 2017. The details aren’t finalized, but a previously announced 150-room hotel developed in partnership with West Elm will be a key component of the project.
“We’re now turning to that,” Cummings said.
One reason the development is possible now: A new, 520-space parking deck for the Design Center is scheduled for completion in January. The parking deck was included in Asana’s purchase. That will free up the surface parking lots owned by Ram Realty, as well as provide additional parking for future development.
Cummings said the new development will include up to 300 units of multifamily housing, likely built in phases. The development will include a smaller amount of retail, perhaps 20,000 square feet, including a restaurant integrated into the hotel.
The office portion of the development will include “design-oriented” space and possibly some co-working locations, Cummings said. He pointed to 1616 Center, the five-story office building a block away by Beacon Partners, as a similar example of what his firm is trying to do.
“We’re likely going to do something of that scale, but more integrated into the mixed-use environment rather than a free-standing office building,” said Cummings.
He said Ram Realty will make sure the new development is integrated well with the existing historic structures and nearby mills of South End.
“In 50 years, it will look like it’s always been there,” said Cummings. The company is looking for more multifamily and mixed-use opportunities in Charlotte.
The Design Center used to be the Nebel Knitting Mill, which opened in 1927. The facility closed for good in 1989, and sat vacant until Tony Pressley of MECA acquired it in 1996 and turned it into creative office space.
“Development of The Design Center of the Carolinas was a labor of love for the entire MECA team and a catalyst for development in South End,” said Rob Pressley, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA. Ram Realty bought the facility in 2007.
Now, Cummings said, the buildings are ready for their next phase.
“It’s really time for them to have another life,” he said.