By Allen Norwood (Charlotte Observer 6/29/12)
The new model home evokes images of models in Birkdale or Baxter, two familiar and successful mixed-use developments in Charlotte suburbs.
The exterior features stone columns on the porch, brackets in the eaves and other welcoming bungalow details. The open interior is filled with sunlight and decorated in soothing grays and creams. The kitchen is showhouse stunning.
It’s not in Huntersville or Fort Mill, though. It’s in Brightwalk – off Statesville Avenue just outside I-277, north of the center city. The tops of skyscrapers peek over the trees from some spots on the sidewalks. The popular N.C. Music Factory is just around the corner.
Brightwalk represents a unique and ambitious public-private collaboration among CalAtlantic Homes, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership and others.
The mixed-income community sits on 98 acres of what used to be Double Oaks apartments, which covered 60 acres of the tract.
Those old, barracks-like buildings are gone. In their place will rise single-family homes, townhouses and apartments, along with office and commercial space. Brightwalk will feature more than 1,000 units, and represent an investment of some $125 million.
Elliot Mann, CalAtlantic’s Carolinas division president, said prices for townhomes will start in the $120,000s. At the upper end, single-family homes will reach into the $300,000s.
They’ll be able to offer new homes at today’s low interest rates as the market slowly starts to recover and other builders start to gear back up.
The 2,211-square-foot, three-bedroom Vanderbilt model, which opened six weeks ago, starts at $196,900. There’s a “flex” room just off the foyer. “It can be a dining room or study … or you could create a fourth bedroom,” Mann said. The kitchen is open to the great room. Beyond the kitchen, a covered outdoor patio extends living space.
There’s an open loft upstairs for the family TV. In this model, the the master bath features a large shower and a tub. “Not every home has a tub,” Mann said, “but every home has a large shower with a seat.”
Mann said CalAtlantic plans to open its first townhouse model in July.
The Housing Partnership, a private nonprofit that creates affordable housing, acquired the site from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The project also got a $10 million loan from HUD, through the city. The partnership is spending $6 million of its money to improve Statesville Avenue where it borders the site. It will be reworked to three lanes, with medians. Mann says it will look like the revamped version of East Boulevard.
The partnership had a clear vision for the development, and how it might boost the Statesville Avenue corridor, but never had tackled anything as ambitious as Brightwalk, said President Pat Garrett. “We’d never done anything of this size, and I don’t know if we could have (without partners),” she said.
Garrett and her board turned to consultants Emma Littlejohn and Burt Philips to refine ideas and recruit builders.
Littlejohn said they realized early on that standard development and financing wouldn’t work on this site in this economic environment, when the focus had to be on lower prices. At least half of the total units have to be set aside for people with limited income. The Littlejohn Group solicited proposals from more than 10 builders, then narrowed that list. “We got down to Elliot (of CalAtlantic), because he believed in it,” she said.
CalAtlantic bought 127 building sites, Mann said, and plans to buy 126 more.
CalAtlantic got a “good deal” on some lots, Garrett said. As this goes forward, and the market sets more prices, CalAtlantic will pay more for future lots, she said, adding that her board insisted on that.
Now, Littlejohn and Garrett are looking for other partners for the next phases. Littlejohn said they hope to have an apartment developer on board by the end of the year. After enough homes and apartments are completed, the next step would be finding a developer for the office and retail.
Littlejohn said that comparisons to Baxter are not far-fetched. Brightwalk hopes to achieve the same “urban town center” vibe. It will include many of the same design elements, and is built on similar public-private collaboration.
Mann and Littlejohn said prospective buyers have included young urbanites, for whom buying near uptown might be cheaper than paying center-city rents. Some are first-time buyers, some are downsizing. “The biggest attraction, by far, is the energy of uptown,” Mann said.
In the recent Parade of Homes, hosted by Charlotte’s home builders, the first model in Brightwalk won a Silver award in its price range. And it impressed Garrett, who shared the original vision: “Oh, I like it, especially that little patio area.”