Dimensional Fund Advisors, Charlotte
Replacing old structures in Charlotte to make way for big buildings filled with smart finance professionals may be as common as a Myrtle Beach sunburn. And the new Dimensional Fund Advisors’ office in Charlotte is certain to raise the city’s financial IQ, given the money-management firm’s reliance on Nobel Prize-winning economists.
Still, the DFA expansion comes with considerable regret because its planned seven-story building will replace the Common Market, a favorite coffee, sandwich and beer spot, and a vacant lot that hosted a popular weekly food-truck gathering. Common Market’s courtyard is widely viewed as a treasure, frequented by hipsters, CEOs, cyclists and people of all colors. “It’s an intimate space that is unique in Charlotte,” says David Walters, a retired UNC Charlotte architecture professor who leased space nearby for 26 years.
It’s also one of the best real-estate locations in Charlotte, a mile south of the Bank of America headquarters building, next to a light-rail station and in the South End neighborhood, where the population has more than doubled since 2009, to almost 9,000. Starting in the 1980s, Charlotte graphic designer Gaines Brown bought real estate there, convinced the deteriorating industrial neighborhood had a future as an artists’ haven.
Now, South End is teeming with young professionals with center-city jobs, along with at least eight brewpubs. What the area lacks is major employers, Walters says.
DFA will help fill that void. Aided by $18 million in local and state grants and tax breaks, the company expects to employ at least 300 people there by 2020. Those workers, involved in investment management, sales and IT, have average annual compensation of about $147,000. The 900-employee company paid $12.2 million for the 2.3-acre plot, mostly owned by Brown. “No sane individual would have turned down that deal,” Walters says. “It’s a classic tale of gentrification. It won’t be South End in the future. It will be downtown South. That is how cities evolve.”
Atlanta-based Cousins Properties Inc. will own the building and has a 15-year lease with the investment company. Durham-based Duda Paine Architects is the designer. DFA declined to comment. Started in 1981, DFA’s assets under management grew to $4 billion in 1990, then to more than $400 billion now, placing it among the 10 largest U.S. mutual fund companies. It caters to larger investment advisers.
Charlotte will be DFA’s third U.S. office, along with its Austin, Texas, headquarters and one in Santa Monica, Calif. “The regional center will enhance client services and provide state-of-the-art facilities for conferences and meetings,” co-CEO David Booth said in a statement. He may be best known for giving $300 million to the University of Chicago’s business school, which now bears his name.
“Change is inevitable, and this is a natural evolution of an urban transit-oriented district that is adjacent to great neighborhoods and downtown,” says Terry Shook, a Charlotte architect who helped pioneer South End. “We just don’t want to diminish the values that made the district great in the first place.”