By Peter Taylor
38 | president, Panorama Holdings
When Wu moved to the Queen City to earn her master’s degree in mathematical finance from UNC Charlotte in 2007, she was sure it was a temporary home. Wu grew up in Chengdu, one of western China’s biggest cities and home to a famous conservation center that breeds giant pandas, one of the country’s most famous icons. “My hometown is the panda bears’ hometown as well,” she says.
She recalls that in her first job interview after graduation, she was asked if she planned to stay in Charlotte. “I said, ‘Nah. I’m moving out as soon as I can,’” she says, laughing.
After living in Atlanta for a year, something drew Wu back to North Carolina.
“I really missed Charlotte,” Wu says. “Even during the downturn, Charlotte was really expanding. Atlanta was growing, too, but not at the same speed as Charlotte. I made a lot of amazing friends that I really missed. Plus, that was [around] the time the light rail extension got funded. So, I saw more opportunities in Charlotte.”
Though she had been working in finance jobs, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps — he’s a commercial real estate developer in China — and try her hand starting projects in the Queen City. She founded Charlotte-based developer Panorama Holdings in 2012 after stints at Wells Fargo Securities and its predecessor, Wachovia Securities.
“All of the underlying assets I worked with were real estate related, like commercial real estate and residential real estate, which required me to really understand all the different asset classes, which prepared me really well from the macroeconomic perspective,” Wu says. “Like, ‘OK, what type of assets will work really well here, what’s the revenue going to be like, what the market condition drivers are, that kind of thing.’”
Since then, she says Panorama has become one of the city’s fastest-growing developers. The company has more than 3 million square feet of development in its project pipeline in the Queen City, including apartment complexes, office spaces and hotels.
“We don’t box ourselves into one asset class. We try new things depending on where the location is and what’s right for the market. We don’t really go to the market and say, ‘OK, we have to do this.’”
Panorama broke ground on two major projects in 2019. In July, the company kicked off the $57 million, 314-unit Lumeo Apartments next to the Charlotte light rail’s University City Boulevard station. The project includes an upscale clubhouse, saltwater pool with a sundeck, fitness center and full-service spa for pets. Construction is expected to be completed later this year. The complex follows Panorama’s $70 million, 377-unit apartment project Blu at Northline, one of the first transit-oriented developments on the light rail between downtown and UNC Charlotte.
Panorama also broke ground on a 14-story, mixed-use building in Ballantyne Village. Panorama Tower is slated to be the tallest development in the Charlotte region outside downtown and will include a 186-room AC Hotel by Marriott, office space and a rooftop restaurant and bar. Panorama also is adding at least three levels to a nearby parking deck to increase capacity to nearly 1,000 parking spaces. Construction is expected to finish in 2021.
“The hotel project has been really, really fun,” Wu says. “It was really complicated because we are doing a hotel, office, rooftop restaurant on a very tight site. The site was only like seven-tenths of an acre. So we needed to go tall, and we needed to figure out the most efficient way to build the building and what the market really wants. So that creates a lot of challenges. How do we make that work? It took a while, but it was very fun.”
Wu is a board member of the University City Partnership neighborhood group and takes part in Charlotte’s chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women. Another key focus is bridging the business gap between the United States and China. She formed the North America Chinese Chamber of Commerce to work with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Embassy in China to attract and guide international investment.
Wu also founded American Alliance for Economic Development, which advocates for investors who want to put money into U.S. projects that create jobs in return for receiving a green card required for immigration. The program started in 1990 but has drawn criticism for being poorly monitored and equal to selling U.S. citizenship. She contends the program, best known as EB-5, boosts local economies and creates jobs. The Blu apartment complex benefited from EB-5 funding.
“It was a very good program to attract foreign investment and create jobs in U.S.,” Wu says. “The program is facing big challenge now as there are big backlogs with over 30 years waiting time.”
Wu says her group focuses on helping investors. “We founded this organization because we feel like it is very important to make sure we treat them fairly.”
— Taylor Wanbaugh