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After Standing Vacant for 10 years, Charlotte's Old
 Convention Center Now in Hands of Developer;
Mixed-use Project Envisioned

By Doug Smith, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 21, 2004- CITY'S OLD CONVENTION CENTER GETS NEW OWNER: After standing vacant for almost 10 years, Charlotte's old convention center finally is in the hands of a private developer who says he's ready to breathe new life into a pivotal corner of uptown.

The Ghazi Co. of Charlotte concluded paperwork Friday and recorded ownership transfer documents Monday, said Afshin Ghazi, president.

"Everything happened from about six weeks ago until today," he said Monday. "It's the quickest closing I've ever had in my life."

Ghazi said his company, which specializes in retail development and leasing, paid about $14.5 million plus an undisclosed amount for confidential buyout agreements.

Charlotte's Spectrum Properties recently handed off the project to Ghazi, which put down a deposit on the site several weeks ago.

Spectrum had envisioned an entertainment center with a multi-screen theater, restaurants, bars and shops. Ghazi said that's still the concept, although his company is studying how to proceed with construction.

Spectrum had anticipated using some of the shell of the old building on the 3-acre site at College and Trade streets, but Ghazi said that's iffy now.

"We have been contemplating adding a residential component," he said. "The only way we would be able to do that is if the old building comes down. We're waiting for structural and engineering reports to determine whether we will be tearing it down completely or partially."

City Economic Development Director Tom Flynn said it doesn't matter whether Ghazi demolishes or reuses parts of the old building.

"The development is only made stronger by having more of a mixed-use project on the site if that's feasible in today's market," he said. "We would support more of a mixed use at that site."

The Ghazi Co. partnered about 18 months ago with Spectrum to pursue conversion of the 31-year-old building.

In October, Spectrum, which had been the lead developer, switched places, becoming a limited partner and putting The Ghazi Co. in control of the project as general partner.

At the time, Spectrum Chairman Jim Dulin noted that Ghazi had the expertise to bring in retail tenants while his firm was the most qualified to arrange the purchase, create the concept and secure city-county participation.

The developers requested $9 million in government assistance in February for the estimated $50million to $60 million project. They got approval in June for $3.2 million from the city and $3.2 million from the county.

The public money hinges on The Ghazi Co. buying the building and finishing the project.

Flynn said the city won't be directly involved in the development, "but clearly there will be a continuing dialogue" between the city and the developer about the connection between the project and the light rail station planned nearby.

The estimated 260,000- square-foot entertainment center -- Ghazi has dubbed it the EpiCentre -- is significant for uptown revitalization. It's across Trade from the new arena in an area where city leaders envision an entertainment district.

The NBA Bobcats are to start playing at the uptown arena in fall 2005. Ghazi said he's aiming for an early 2006 opening.

The old convention center has been vacant since the new Charlotte Convention Center opened in early 1995 at College and Stonewall streets. In the past six years, two national development firms failed in efforts to buy the old center from the city and replace it with upscale shopping, hotels and office towers.

"It started out really as a property disposal, and then got into economic development," Flynn said.

The Ghazi Co. bought the building from Arena Holdings, the entity formed by Bank of America and Wachovia to acquire it from the city to help finance the uptown arena.

Ghazi said he's working with D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. on how to proceed with either partial or complete demolition.

He hasn't named an architect or general contractor.

Ghazi developed The Terrace at SouthPark, a two-story, office/retail project on Sharon Road near the mall, in 1998.

He also partnered with George Cornelson on the Grande Promenade shopping center off North Tryon Street at W.T. Harris Boulevard and on ParkTowne Village at Park and Woodlawn roads.

Doug Smith: (704) 358-5174; dougsmith@charlotteobserver.com

-----To see more of The Charlotte Observer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.charlotte.com.

(c) 2004, The Charlotte Observer, N.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com.

 
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