At the 2023 ULI Carolinas Meeting in February, six developers working on complex projects in North and South Carolina talked about their work and plans for the future. In varied ways, they’re all taking advantage of current environments: they’re tuning into the natural world, connecting with existing popular amenities, or highlighting the region’s rich history.

Here are some of the most interesting developments occurring in the Carolinas this year.

Morrison Yard in Charleston, South Carolina

In 2018, the Charleston firm Origin Development Partners bought a property at the base of the city’s iconic Ravenel Bridge. Formerly owned by the Port Authority, the site had been overlooked and needed improvements.

Origin has big plans. The site is slated to hold 550 luxury multifamily units; 138,000 square feet (12,821 square meters) of office space; a 150-room Kimpton Hotel; and 37,000 square feet (3,437 square meters) of street-level retail. And those plans are on their way to becoming a reality. But in the process, Origin ran into some roadblocks, particularly with its office building: the city’s exacting Board of Architectural Review rejected the company’s initial architectural ideas and Origin had to find another architect. Then the pandemic derailed construction plans.

Today, however, the project is moving forward nicely, and the office building is averaging rents of around $45 per square foot.

Zack Bearden, a principal with Origin, explained that he’s particularly proud of Origin’s work in the community. The company has created a new public park that reconnects the neighborhood with the waterfront. “Reknitting the community—that was a mission for us,” he explained. 

The Quarter South End in Charlotte, North Carolina 

“We looked at it and were blown away,” said Mason Ellerbe, a partner at Abacus Capital.

He was speaking of one of the three industrial buildings that Abacus is currently redeveloping as part of The Quarter South End, a new mixed-use development in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood. The 15-acre (6 ha) microdistrict will hold over 300 apartments and 140,000 square feet (13,006 square meters) of creative commercial space.

Abacus was eager to buy the three buildings, which were acquired in separate transactions. All between 40 and 70 years old and built solidly of brick, they impart a tangible sense of history. And they were cheaper than new construction, giving Abacus a competitive price advantage.

“We bought almost the whole block,” said Ellerbe. There are still two holdout properties nearby, but Abacus is hoping to purchase them as well.

Spark LS in Morrisville, North Carolina

Trinity Capital Partners is a big player in the Southeast’s life sciences market. The company already has one life sciences conversion project in Morrisville, a municipality in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area. In December 2021, Trinity Capital bought another 109 acres (44 ha) in the town—this time, electing to build a project from the ground up.

“This was an opportunity to be purpose-built,” said Tyson Strutzenberg, managing director at Trinity Capital. The 1.5 million square foot (139,355 square meter) campus—which will hold 12-15 buildings—will co-locate research and development facilities with manufacturing, something that often appeals to tenants but is uncommon in the expensive, built-out markets of San Francisco, Boston or San Diego.

Another benefit of the large property is the opportunity to provide extensive amenities and green space. Sparks LS will include a 10,000 square foot (929 square meter) fitness center, an amphitheater, and the Axis Center, a conference and training space that will be open to others in the local life sciences community.

The Borden Building in Greenville, South Carolina

“You can’t manufacture the sense of place or character that a 100-year-old structure can offer,” said Robert Poppleton.

Poppleton is a vice president with Greenville, SC-based The Furman Company, which is currently redeveloping a century-old Borden ice cream factory in the city. The project, which will hold 40,000 square feet (3,716 square meters) of creative office space, has had its ups and downs. On the upside, the property’s unique history and strong bones have provided the project with an invaluable sense of character. To boot, The Furman Company is benefiting from a range of incentives, including state and federal historic tax credits, brownfields tax credits, and abandoned building tax credits.

But working on an industrial site that had been abandoned since the 1990s has led to some unpleasant surprises, including underground storage tanks and a steel structural system that rests on wood footers. To developers working on historic sites, Poppleton advised, “Take your contingency and double it—at least.”

110 East in Charlotte, North Carolina

Matthew Knisely, managing director at Shorenstein Properties, admits that he’s bullish about Charlotte’s South End neighborhood, which is home to the city’s light rail system and an adjacent pedestrian trail. So when his team found a two-acre (.8 ha) church parking lot in the neighborhood that was for sale, they jumped on it.

The process has had some hiccups; Shorenstein had to buy out several retail tenants, and also went through a brownfields process with the state that took three years. But it has also had some luck: namely, getting construction pricing and financing locked down before inflation and interest rates began climbing in mid-2022. “We were quite fortunate on the timing,” said Knisely. “It would be a much different analysis today.”

The result will be a 23-story building with 370,000 square feet (34,374 square meters) of office space including and a sky lobby on the 11th floor. The ground floor will hold retail tenants and have a direct connection to one of the city’s light rail stations.

North Hills in Raleigh, North Carolina

In the 1960s, Raleigh’s North Hills Mall was the first indoor shopping center between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. In the early 2000s, Kane Realty Company transformed the 130-acre (53 ha) property into a pedestrian-focused, mixed-use area.

Today, Kane is continuing its redevelopment of the site. The mall’s final tenant, JCPenney, left in 2020, and the company is in the process of adding 350,000 square feet (32,516 square meters) of office space spread across two buildings, 287 apartment units, and 100,000 square feet (9,290 square meters) of retail. All of that will sit atop a two-level subgrade parking structure.

“It’s the largest and most complicated single project Kane has taken on,” said Kallie Walker, a senior development manager with Kane. “It’s four buildings, designed by three different architects, and two ownership groups—all on one site.”

If that’s not enough, Kane is also working on the North Hills Innovation District, a $1 billion, 15-year project across the street that began delivering in 2020. Ultimately, that site will include two high rise office buildings, four residential buildings, and four acres of outdoor space.

Walker said the company plans to enliven the innovation district with unique food and micro-retail offerings, as well as large-format art, the restoration of an on-site creek, and addition of sustainable elements like beehives and solar panels.