A recent aerial photo of Charlotte’s South End. (Spectrum)

At the 2021 ULI Carolinas meeting, held as a virtual/in-person hybrid event in March, the annual Crane Watch session showcased projects under construction in North and South Carolina that use innovative planning and design in their placemaking efforts, creating iconic projects that help shape the neighborhoods that surround them.

The projects this year included a historic storefront restoration, a shipping container–based food yard, and a massive nine-block development.—all in planning long before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt in the region. But as construction nears completion, each project is adapting to fit the needs of tenants and the public in a post-COVID world.

During the session, moderated by Janet Bates, client solutions manager for JE Dunn Construction, the following projects were presented.

Middleton on Main—Middleton Family
Columbia, South Carolina

Middleton on Main, an adaptive-use, mixed-use development in the Columbia Commercial Historic District, is redeveloping three abandoned storefronts along Main Street that date to 1865 to serve as a restaurant, a brewery, and a speakeasy, with apartments above.

“This is the densest concentration of buildings with historic integrity,” said Scott Garvin, president of Garvin Design Group, project architect. “These storefronts haven’t been touched in 40 years.” Panels from the 1960s were removed to reveal the original 19th-century brick facades, he said.

Another priority is to create inviting outdoor gathering spaces that are especially desirable for restaurants in response to the pandemic, Garvin said.

Boxyard RTP—Research Triangle Foundation
Durham, North Carolina

In the middle of Research Triangle Park (RTP), Boxyard RTP is repurposing 40 shipping containers to provide distinctive shopping and dining experiences for the employees of the more than 300 companies in the area.

“This is the first project of this scale in North Carolina, so we experienced some roadblocks along the way,” said Carolyn Coia, senior director of real estate for the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina. Challenges included numerous approvals and structural limitations, but Coia said creative solutions had been found, such as a 10,000-gallon (38,000 liter) shared grease trap and modifications to required load calculations to maintain structural integrity. “It’s not like Legos,” she said.

Coia joked that because of the extensive challenges, she has been told the $9.5 million project is “only a project a foundation could love.”

Boxyard RTP is almost entirely leased up with bars, eateries, services, and entertainment, and is expected to open in April.

Panorama Tower—Panorama Holdings
Charlotte, North Carolina

The developer of Panorama Tower, the tallest building in Charlotte’s upscale Ballantyne area, aims for the project to stand out from the crowd of mid-rise office buildings and bring an urban vibe to the suburban area, known for the sprawling Ballantyne Corporate Park.

“Ballantyne is craving something more,” said Jane Wu, president of Panorama Holdings, who emphasized that the project will bring more culture and energy to the neighborhood.

Rising 14 stories, Panorama Tower includes a 186-key AC hotel, retail space, about 100,000 square feet (9,300 sq m) of office space, and a rooftop restaurant—the highest outside Uptown Charlotte.

“We will elevate this project to be the highest point in Ballantyne, but it will also elevate the greatness of Ballantyne,” said Wu. “It’s a desk-to-dining experience that will serve as an amenity for the entire neighborhood.”

The Cooper Hotel—Lowe
Charleston, South Carolina

In the heart of historic Charleston fronting the harbor, the Cooper Hotel currently under construction occupies the only waterfront property zoned for a hotel in the historic district, said Dan Battista, senior vice president of Lowe, who is developing the project. “We’ve been pursuing hotel development on the peninsula since 1995,” he said.

With 225 rooms, the hotel will have 10,000 square feet (930 sq m) of meeting space, a waterfront restaurant, a rooftop bar and restaurant, a spa, a pier and marina, and 12,000 square feet (1,100 sq m) of street-level retail space, plus an expanded Riley Waterfront Park.

Because of its location in the historic district, the project required an arduous city Board of Architectural Review (BAR) process that included rezoning, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conditional letter of map revision to get the property out of the velocity zone, and state Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management approval for the park, as well as work with numerous stakeholders, including the city BAR, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Charleston Preservation Society, the Coastal Conservation League, and neighborhood associations.

“We have passionate stakeholders in Charleston,” said Battista. “Development can be challenging but also rewarding.” The project is a public/private partnership with the city and included $2 million in improved infrastructure, he said.

The Cooper Hotel is projected to open in spring 2023.

Vantage South End—Spectrum Companies
Charlotte, North Carolina

In Charlotte’s booming South End submarket, developer Spectrum Companies’ 635,000-square-foot (59,000 sq m) mixed-use project Vantage South End will bring outdoor green space to an urban area where it is significantly lacking.

With two 11-story buildings flanking a central courtyard with 700 outdoor seats, Vantage South End will create “a campuslike experience similar to what you’d find in Silicon Valley,” said Steve McClure, chief executive officer of Spectrum Companies.

The recently completed West Tower is being fitted for LendingTree’s corporate headquarters, as well as accounting firm Grant Thornton’s relocated office from Uptown. The spec-built East Tower is under construction with a projected delivery in spring 2022, when “the timing will be right when tenants need space,” McClure said.

Spectrum is looking at ways to adapt to a post-COVID world with advanced air filtration, wellness offerings, flexible floor plates, and ease of access, he said.

A 200-room boutique hotel will top the parking deck as the last phase. “We are nailing down the flag right now, but thankfully due to this time, we are in discussions with several who are interested,” McClure said.

Seaboard Station—Hoffman & Associates
Raleigh, North Carolina

Covering six blocks and nine acres (3.6 ha) in downtown Raleigh adjacent to William Peace University just a few blocks north of the state Capitol, Seaboard Station is named for the 1942 railway station that now operates as a garden center.

“We want to create an environment where people want to gather and that has energy,” said Rob Steward, vice president of development for Hoffman & Associates. “Our vision is that it’s where everything connects.”

Influenced by the design of surrounding warehouses, Seaboard Station will have a modern industrial feel with varied storefronts, restaurants, more than 600 apartments, a 149-key hotel, a rooftop bar with expansive views of downtown Raleigh, and outdoor gathering spaces.

“This is the largest critical mass of retail outside downtown, so we know we need to get it right,” Steward said.