Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Building N.C. 2023: The tenth annual look at the best new and rehabbed structures in the state

This marks the 10th year that Business North Carolina has saluted the most important new buildings that opened in the past year across the state. The decade has been highlighted by billions of dollars of investment in office towers and multifamily projects in the central business districts in Raleigh and Charlotte; extensive hospital and university expansions across the state; large pharmaceutical projects in Durham and Johnston counties; and innovative renovations of historic structures in Durham, High Point, Winston-Salem and many other cities. This year’s report cites seven category winners and five honorable mentions that span many industries. The buildings were selected by the BNC editorial team with input from representatives of the state’s construction and architecture industries. The projects had to be completed between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, to qualify.


Developer:  Childress Klein Charlotte
Contractor: Batson-Cook Construction (Atlanta)
Architects: TVS Design (Atlanta)
Cost: N/A ($346.7 million tax value) 
Size: Building about 1 million square feet; parking garage/dock 500,000 square feet

Childress Klein and Maryland-based CGA Capital paid $27.5 million in 2019 for an asphalt parking lot on two acres in downtown Charlotte. The 40-story Duke Energy Plaza now stands on that property, the fifth-tallest tower in the city at 629 feet. Nearly 1,000 people worked on the building during its
three-year construction period, according to Duke.

The first of about 3,500 employees started moving into the building in January and the final group moved in Oct. 2. Most don’t come in five days a week because of hybrid work schedules, says company spokesperson Madison McDonald. A seven-level parking garage with 1,100 spaces and loading dock  supports the building, while its 25,000 square feet of retail space will host locally owned restaurants. Two spots opening next year will be run by famed local chefs Joe and Katy Kindred: Albertine, a fine dining restaurant, and Milkbread, an all-day café and coffee shop.

Duke is the sole office tenant in the building, which has a tax valuation of $346.7 million.

At its completion, the Duke Energy Plaza was the second-tallest building in the world to utilize a precast concrete-tube frame design that covers long spans and supports heavy loads, according to general contractor Batson-Cook.

The new tower is enabling the energy giant to cut its office footprint from approximately 2.5 million square feet in uptown Charlotte to 1 million square feet. The company expects savings of as much as $90 million over the next five years. Duke is exiting two nearby properties on South Tryon Street and offices at Piedmont Town Center in the SouthPark neighborhood. Two developers bought two older Duke buildings in the downtown area. 

Three public art installations are part of the design. There are two illuminated sculptures and a mural outside. Inside, a ceiling-suspended sculpture and complementary motion graphic animations are displayed along a nearly 60-foot-long audio-visual wall.


Developer: Western Carolina University
Contractor: Vannoy Construction (Jefferson)
Architects: Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas (Rochester, New York)
Cost: $83.3 million
Size: Three residence halls, 230,079 square feet

Western Carolina University added three freshmen residence halls featuring 932 beds, mountain lodging-style community rooms and outdoor spaces with fire pits and designated hammock areas. WCU named them Water Rock, Black Rock and Shining Rock, a nod to its mountain stewardship role since its 1889 inception. Each name represents a peak in the nearby Smokies, Plott Balsams and Blue Ridge mountains.

Unique lobby fireplaces and themes of forest, water and mountains offer different vibes for similar buildings. Leading construction for Vannoy were senior project manager TJ Hollars, field engineer Nick Kiser (now a superintendent) and superintendents Stephen Stickle and Brian Teaster. All four are WCU graduates.

The buildings come as WCU has reported slightly lower enrollment over the last three years after peaking at 12,243 students in 2020. This fall, enrollment was 11,628, virtually unchanged from a year ago. The university had its third-largest freshman class this fall with 2,082 students, an 8.8% increase from last fall.

To make room, WCU demolished the Scott and Walker residence halls, which were built in 1969 and 1972, respectively.



Developer: Kisco Senior Living (Carlsbad, California) and Welltower (Toledo, Ohio)   Contractor: Clancy & Theys (Raleigh)
Architect: THW Design (Atlanta)  
Cost: $153.9 million
Size:  18 stories, 425,638 square feet

Raleigh’s popularity for retirement living is enabling the success of The Cardinal at North Hills, which has doubled in size after its launch in 2017. The new East Tower features 191 apartments – 151 for independent living and 40 assisted living – and mostly one- and two-bedroom options with large balconies for seniors seeking a “five-star” residence.

A 1,000-square-foot, one-bedroom for a single resident starts at $6,100 a month, while penthouse apartments rent for twice as much. Occupancy is more than 60% in the new construction and there are more than 400 apartments in the community. Large windows offer natural light and sweeping city views at the tower, which architects from THW Design describe as a “prominent silhouette” in north Raleigh’s skyline. The Cardinal’s proximity to North Hills’ many restaurants and shops are a key attraction.

Natural finishes and materials, including a two-story living green wall in the lobby, emphasize access to the outdoors. Amenities include chef-prepared meals in multiple dining venues, two fitness centers, beauty salon and an indoor saltwater pool. The veranda of the 35,000-square-foot clubhouse overlooks the courtyard and garden.

Kisco Senior Living owns other senior living developments in Cary, Greensboro and Raleigh. The East Tower expansion is a joint venture with Welltower, a healthcare real estate investment company.



Developer: FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Contractor: Brasfield & Gorrie (Birmingham, Alabama)
Architects: CPL (Rochester, New York)
Cost: $68 million
Size: Four stories, 120,000 square feet

FirstHealth of the Carolinas, a not-for-profit serving 15 central N.C. counties, opened a cancer center at Moore Regional Hospital guided by the principle that cancer is survivable. The center brings outpatient cancer care under one roof, an improvement over having patients travel to separate buildings for treatments. The center houses palliative care services, research and clinical trials and support services for patients. Features include a fourth-floor wellness center with a yoga room and exercise equipment to help patients build stamina while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. A garden gives patients an outdoor space to heal, connect and relax.

The Foundation of FirstHealth raised $30 million of the $68 million project cost. Radiation oncologist Dr. Sushma Patel and Pinehurst Surgical Clinic surgeon Dr. Raymond Washington serve as co-medical directors. Architect firm CPL received an International Interior Design Association Healthcare Design award for the project.



Developer: Armada Hoffler (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
Contractor: Armada Hoffler Construction (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
Architects: BB+M (Charlotte) 
Cost: $55 million
Size: 140,700 square feet

Chronicle Mill opened in 1901, becoming Belmont’s first textile mill. By the 1930s, more than 20 mills followed, spiraling Belmont’s population from 145 at the turn of the century to more than 4,000. Chronicle Mill produced its last skein of yarn in 2010 after operating for more than a century. In 2013, John and Jennnifer Church, who own Centra Properties, bought the shuttered mill and would partner six years later with Armada Hoffler. Today, the Chronicle Mill has been reborn near downtown into one- and two-bedroom loft apartments with exposed brick walls, original maple hardwood ceilings and timber beams. The first tenants arrived in October 2022. Rent ranges from $1,300 for a 460-square-foot studio to more than $3,500 with lots of price points in between. There is also 9,000 square feet of commercial space and the Mill Collective, a public coworking space.

A fourth floor of apartments was added to the former three-story mill, for a total of 95 units. A second, five-story building with 143 units was added to the 7-acre lot. A swimming pool, along with a bocce court, divides the two buildings. 

Chronicle Mill was named after native son and Revolutionary War hero Maj. William Chronicle, who was killed at the pivotal Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. Textile titan R.L. Stowe Sr. and his brother, Samuel Pickney Stowe, founded Stowe Spinning, which became Chronicle Mill, and helped start a family empire.


Developer: Doosan Bobcat
Contractor:  Omega Construction (Winston-Salem)
Architects: Shultz & Associates Architects (Fargo, North Dakota)
Cost: $70 million
Size: 600,000 square feet

Doosan Bobcat made Statesville its largest manufacturing facility in North America with a 600,000-square-foot expansion last year, bringing its footprint to more than 1 million square feet on a 150-acre campus. Doosan Group of Korea is among the world’s largest heavy equipment manufacturers. Doosan Bobcat’s U.S. headquarters are in West Fargo, North Dakota. 

Growth in Statesville includes a 425,000-square-foot warehouse, 76,500 square feet for manufacturing and 78,000 square feet for storage, pre-assembly and equipment testing. Construction began in July 2021, when the N.C. plant employed around 400 workers. More than 900 people work there now, says spokesperson Nadine Erckenbrack. 

The expansion allowed Bobcat to shift production of a mini-track loader from its North Dakota plant to Iredell County, growing its grounds maintenance equipment production, which includes compact tractors. Bobcat expects to shift production of another front-end loader from North Dakota to Statesville by early 2024, which will allow the Midwest plant to focus on making excavators, Erckenbrack says. The Statesville location also produces portable power products such as generators, light towers and air compressors. Bobcat has had a facility in Statesville since 2008.


Developer: Wake Forest University
Contractor: Whiting-Turner (Baltimore)
Architect: Walter Robbs (Winston-Salem)
Cost: $38 million
Size: 60,000 square feet

Wake Forest University has among the smallest enrollments of any member of a Power 5 athletic conference, but it wants to be a strong competitor. Over the past eight years, it has spent more than $100 million on its football facilities. The latest piece, the McCreary Football Complex, includes locker space for 130 student-athletes, a dining area for as many as 200 people, athletic training and equipment rooms. Extras include hot or cold plunge pool areas, billiards and ping pong tables and a barber shop.

The McCreary Football Complex replaces the Mark C. Pruitt Football Center’s Peahead Walker Football Locker Room built in 1988. It connects to the McCreary Football Field House, which is the Deacons’ 80,000-square-foot indoor practice facility that opened in 2016. Peahead Walker coached Wake Forest from 1937 to 1950, and is tied with Jim Grobe (2001-2013) as the winningest coach in school history.

About 700 donors contributed to the locker room project. About $20 million came from Bob McCreary, a Caldwell County native who played at Wake Forest from 1958 to 1960. Overall, he’s given about $55 million to the university, following the success of his McCreary Modern furniture company, which employs about 975 employees at six plants in Catawba and Caldwell counties, says President and COO Rick Coffey. McCreary is chairman, while his son, Robert, is CEO.


Developer: CaroMont Health
Contractor: Robins & Morton (Birmingham, Alabama)
Architects: McMillan Pazdan Smith
(Spartanburg, South Carolina)
Cost: $130 million
Size: Four floors, 176,811 square feet

The Gastonia healthcare authority is investing $350 million in projects, including this tower that added four floors to a
50-year-old hospital. The move added 41 beds, giving it 476 total. CaroMont is building a 66-bed hospital in Belmont that is expected to open next fall.


Developer: Atrium Health
Contractor: DPR Construction and Rodgers Builders (Redwood City, California, and Charlotte, respectively)
Architects: NBBJ Design (Seattle)
Cost: $100 million
Size: 152,204 square feet

The five-story rehabilitation replaces a structure constructed in 1950. It features 72 patient rooms, private treatment spaces,
a therapy garden and 16,000 square feet of inpatient and outpatient therapy space. Conlan was a partner of real estate investor Howard “Smoky” Bissell, who developed Ballantyne Corporate Park in south Charlotte. Bissell and his wife, Margaret, gave the center $30 million in honor of Conlan. Atrium, which is part of the third-largest U.S. nonprofit hospital operator, is building an adjacent 12-story, 448-bed medical tower, scheduled to open in spring 2027.


Developer: Portman Holdings (Atlanta)
Contractor:  DPR Construction (Redwood City, California)
Architects: Gensler (San Francisco)
Cost: N/A
Size: 320,000 square feet

Portman purchased 1.8 acres next to the Queen City’s light rail line for $12.7 million in 2018.  It replaced a single-story office space with a 16-story building that has about 28,000 square feet of retail space, 285,000 square feet of office space, and six floors of parking. Its darker steel and exposed concrete is a nod to the South End’s industrial roots. Foundry Commercial reported 52% of the office space had been leased by late September.

Sycamore Brewing, which relocated from next door, takes up one-fourth of the retail space. Atlanta-based neighborhood market Savi Provisions opened in July. In September, restaurateur Jon Dressler opened Chapter Six, which serves western Mediterranean dishes. Portman Holdings remains a partner, but sold the property to Dallas-based CBRE Investment Management for $206 million in June 2022.


Developer: Western Carolina University
Contractor: The Christman Co. (Lansing, Michigan)
Architects: Burns & McDonnell (Kansas City, Missouri)
Cost: $33 million
Size: Two stories, 17,300 square feet

Western Carolina University replaced its steam plant, built in 1924 and initially fueled by coal, with a modern operation that is powered by natural gas. The steam plant heats buildings and provides hot water. The new plant has its own smokestack, but the design keeps the original version as a historical nod. The plant’s original steam whistle, once used to signal the start and end of a workday, is being installed in the new plant.


Developer: Whitestone
Contractor: Blum Construction (Winston-Salem) 
Architects: SFCS Architects (Charlotte) 
Cost: $75 million

In Guilford County, more than 16% of the population has reached their senior years, a number certain to increase as baby
boomers age. Whitestone, which was the first fraternal home started by the Masonic and Eastern Star communities in 1912, is responding by adding 67 independent living residences in one- and two-bedroom options. The Care and Wellness Center renovations include a rehabilitation gym, courtyard and enhanced salon and spa. The final phase of the expansion is adding 24 more residences, plus 12  memory care suites. Whitestone is managed by Des Moines, Iowa-based Life Care Services, which oversees more than 140 senior living communities. 


The most expensive, and perhaps most important building to open in North Carolina in the past year sits empty, a victim of swift changes in the economy and at a giant company.

Centene, a Fortune 500 business with 70,000 employees, spent more than $700 million on the 800,000-square foot office at Charlotte’s University Research Park. Based in a St. Louis suburb, Centene is the nation’s largest Medicaid managed-care insurance company, serving
13 million people.

It was a prize project for former CEO Michael Neidorff, who took Centene public in 2001 when it had $327 million in revenue. Last year they took in $145 billion.

Neidorff, 79, had expressed displeasure with St. Louis’s mounting crime rate and wanted to capitalize on Centene’s $17 billion acquisition of Tampa, Florida-based WellCare Health Plans in 2019.

So a year later, he ordered up an East Coast headquarters and picked Charlotte, lured by $450 million in potential state and local incentives. Clayco, which built Centene’s large campus in Clayton, Missouri, was hired as the contractor, with a design by LS3P of Charleston, South Carolina. Plans called for an opening in late 2022.

The “new campus paves the way for the next generation of offices focused on top-tier recruiting, retention, and agile operations,” LS3P noted on its website. The complex includes a cafe, fitness facilities and more than 5,000 parking spaces. Plans called for about 3,200 workers initially at the site, which is adjacent to retirement investment company’s TIAA offices that employ 5,000. 

As the building emerged, however, some Centene investors criticized the company’s financial performance as it faced multistate charges of Medicaid-related fraud. In late 2021, six directors were replaced, and Neidorff agreed to retire as CEO within a year.

Then, in early 2022, he got sick and took medical leave. In April 2022, Neidorff died from an infection. His successor was Sarah London, 41, who had joined Centene two years earlier to lead its digital strategy. She didn’t share Neidorff’s vision for the Charlotte complex.

In August 2022, shortly before the Charlotte site was ready to open, Centene told Gov. Roy Cooper it was quitting the project. Overall, it was cutting its national real estate footprint by 70%. It wrote off several hundred million dollars for the building.

Empty office buildings aren’t rare in 2023, of course. In Austin, Texas, three new, large downtown towers with more than 1.5 million square feet have no occupants. Google and Facebook owner Meta had planned to occupy most of two of those buildings but changed direction.

But Centene’s investment is unprecedented for a failed project in North Carolina, real estate experts say. Now, Cushman & Wakefield is marketing the former Centene building, hoping to lure a large company seeking greener pastures. ■  

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