South End residential tower developed with precast concrete delivers
An upscale apartment tower developed on a tiny site in South End opened this fall. Hawk, at 1932 Hawkins St. — adjacent to the Design Center of the Carolinas — is now leasing up after breaking ground in early 2019. The 13-story tower was developed on less than 0.4 of an acre, prompting the developer, Florida-based Ram Realty Advisors, to pursue a unique construction method to build a high rise.
The building was one of the first — if not the first — high-rise structures in the Carolinas to be built with precast concrete. It's a construction method that casts concrete in molds that are cured in a factory, then those pieces are shipped to the project construction site, lifted and put into place.
Most apartment buildings in Charlotte are wood-framed buildings, but that can't be used for a high rise. In high-rise residential projects, cast-in-place concrete construction is more typical. But each level has to be poured one at a time, then dry, which would have added time — and money — to the project, said Rachel Russell Krenz, director of development at Ram.
"Because the site was so small, the economics of it are difficult to make work," she said. "We were trying to figure out how to find efficiencies in the project."
Although she said she couldn't say for sure how much time was saved by using precast concrete, it was likely about six months. Hawk, which has 71 apartments, wrapped up construction this fall.
Precast concrete construction has been used in development before but, typically, for office projects, not multifamily, said Mark Ward, principal at Cline Design Associates, Hawk's architect. Hawk was the firm's first precast concrete construction project.
Metromont Corp., based in Greenville, South Carolina, manufactured the precast concrete panels for the project. Ward said panels were trucked in from the factory, then hoisted onsite with cranes — the process was like watching someone building with a life-sized Erector Set.
Hawk used precast concrete for the floors and exterior walls, and metal framing and drywall were installed on the interior after the panels were placed.
Ward said Metromont, general contractor Concorde Construction Co., Ram and Cline Design all had to be involved early on in project design. For Cline, a challenge was learning the limitations of precast concrete and coming up with architecture and design that would accommodate it.
Metromont uses a proprietary system for its precast concrete, which means everything else has to work to fit it.
"There was a lot of time spent in proportions, dimensions," Ward continued. "It takes a lot of work to make something look simple. I think that was the biggest challenge — taking this simple form and making it look elegant."
Krenz said even though using precast for a high rise was a risk, it ultimately ended up being effective for Hawk, since the site and project had certain challenges and requirements. She said she would use precast construction again, in specific circumstances.
Using precast concrete also resulted in a tighter building envelope, which makes heating, cooling and sound more efficient, Krenz said.
Although South End has been the recipient of tens of thousands of apartments since its renaissance, Krenz said the idea behind Hawk was to offer an upscale rental product — more like a luxury hotel room or a condo than an apartment.
Rents at Hawk, which include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, start at $1,905 for a one-bedroom, 833-square-foot unit. A three-bedroom floorplan with two-and-a-half-bathrooms, totaling 1,724 square feet, starts at $4,903 per month.
The units include upscale features and amenities, and there are only six apartments per floor, which Krenz said was intended to give residents more privacy. Apartments include wide-plank flooring and warehouse-style windows, with features like gas ranges and custom walnut cabinetry in the kitchens, shower rooms with freestanding soaking tubs in the bathrooms, custom-designed wardrobes, and private laundry rooms.
Krenz said a lot of thought went into details and unit design, such as adding dressing areas adjacent to the bathrooms and putting kitchens against a wall with windows instead of in a unit entryway.
"We took a lot of risks to do this project, from construction type to design," she said. "It wasn’t the norm. You hope that people love it and we’re finding that people do."
Hawk is about 28% leased so far, Krenz said. She declined to give a construction value for the project.
There's about 6,200 square feet of retail space in the building along Hawkins Street. Krenz said Asana Partners — which purchased the Design Center from Ram a few years ago — will soon close on that space and lease it up.
Ram built a parking structure adjacent to Hawk, which has reserved spaces for the apartment tower but also serves as a public parking deck for the Design District, the area around the Design Center.
Ram has over the years become a major owner and developer in South End, particularly around the Design Center. Steps away from Hawk, Ram and co-developer Childress Klein recently topped out on Design Center Tower, where Lowe's will keep its tech center. Earlier this year, Ram finished the second phase of Three30Five, including new retail and office space, the latter of which will be fully leased by electric-vehicle manufacturer Arrival.
Also in early 2020, Ram opened The Hub South End, a 265-unit apartment development with 22,000 square feet of commercial space at Hawkins and Dunavant streets. The firm is also under contract to purchase a site on Tremont Avenue, where it's planning another residential development, Krenz said.
"The demand for people to live in South End is so immense that (people) may think, ‘It's crazy how many apartments are being delivered in South End,'" she continued. "(But) there’s so much demand for it."
Ram Realty Advisors LLC acquires and develops retail, multifamily, and mixed-use properties in select high-growth markets throughout the Southeast. The investments are capitalized by Ram-sponsored discretionary private equity funds and institutional co-investment vehicles. Since 1996, Ram has deployed in excess of $3.2 billion of capital. Ram and its predecessor entities were founded in 1978. The Company is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and has offices in Charlotte and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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