Sunday, June 16, 2024

UNC Charlotte honors developer Fred Klein

Charlotte developer Fred Klein was honored Wednesday with UNC Charlotte’s Distinguished Service Award, reflecting his long support for the campus.

In remarks after receiving the reward at a lunch gathering. Klein shared several anecdotes about his career and why he became a major backer of UNC Charlotte. He is a former member of the school’s board of trustees and provided key funding for a real estate institute that is part of the Belk College of Business.

  • Klein came to Charlotte in the late 1970s to work for Dallas-based Trammell Crow, then one of the nation’s largest developers. In 1988, he and partner Don Childress split off to form Childress Klein, starting with a couple of one-story buildings. But the firm took off after starting Charlotte Plaza, a 27-story tower in downtown Charlotte. Getting First Union Corp. to sign for two floors in the building set the project on the path to success.
  • Childress Klein later developed the 42-story First Union Center building, known as the “Jukebox” building and several other skyscrapers in Charlotte’s center city. Most recently, it developed Duke Energy’s new 40-story headquarters, while it has vast holdings in warehouses, retail centers and multifamily housing. Klein said the firm has $3 billion invested in real estate, mostly in the Charlotte area, but added that is backed by $4 billion in debt. (Developers don’t usually mention that, he joked.) He is now senior managing partner of the firm, while his children, Fred Klein III and Amy Klein Aznar, are key leaders.
  • In its early days, Childress Klein hired away 199 Trammell Crow colleagues out of a staff of about 200, an amazing feat given the troubled nature of the real estate industry at the time, Childress Klein partner Landon Wyatt III said at the gathering. He credited the staff’s respect for Klein as the key factor.
  • Klein helped attract the New York-based TIAA investment firm to add a large campus in north Charlotte. Its proximity to UNC Charlotte convinced Klein that the university had a central role for the city’s development. He credited former First Union CEO Cliff Cameron and former UNC Charlotte Chancellor James Woodward with helping land TIAA, which now employs nearly 5,000 people in the Charlotte area.
  • UNC Charlotte no longer has an excuse of being a “young university,” Klein says, noting it was started in 1946, the same year he was born. “78 is not young,” he says. It has more than 150,000 alumni, including about 90,000 who live in the Charlotte area. Enrollment has grown from about 8,000 in the late 1980s to about 30,000 now.
  • The campus’ $300 million endowment needs to expand to $1 billion over the next five years as UNC Charlotte expects to gain Research 1 status, reflecting its expanding research efforts, Klein says. Its current fund is small for a campus of its size.
  • While once ignored by state politicians, Klein says UNC Charlotte now benefits from clout at the N.C.  General Assembly. He cited, two times, the names of N.C. Sen. David Craven and N.C. Rep. Jason Saine, who are from Randolph and Lincoln counties, respectively. Both are UNC Charlotte graduates who have helped attract major campus funding. While noting he doesn’t always agree with their political positions, he urged the lunch crowd to support the Republican leaders.
  • Given sufficient support from alumni and community supporters, UNC Charlotte could become one of the nation’s top 15 public universities, Klein said.

The annual Distinguished Service Award has been offered since 1987. Awardees include prominent leaders including Bill Lee, Thomas Storrs, Thomas Belk, Pat Rodgers and Cathy Bessant.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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