Residential development, office projects on deck for Innovation Park’s next chapter

Charlotte Business Journal

February 25, 2021

By Ashley Fahey

After the large Innovation Park office property in University Research Park was sold in late 2019, new ownership is looking to move ahead on projects at the site later this year.

Accesso Partners and Partners Group paid $270 million for the property, which includes 1.8 million square feet of office space across a dozen buildings. A rezoning petition was filed last summer to add new development that would make it a mixed-use property rather than solely an office park.

Marc Bellet, director of asset management and national director of development at Accesso Partners, said the firm will be modifying its rezoning request to include only the west campus, instead of the entire, 201-acre site. The move was prompted by feedback from the city’s zoning review committee and internal discussions.

The owners are talking to local multifamily developers to joint venture on up to 575 garden-style apartments, which would be built in two phases. The residential development is contingent on the rezoning, which Bellet said he expected would be up for a vote by November.

Additionally, a grading permit has been filed with the city to build a four-story, 120,000-square-foot office building. That building could be developed byright with the current zoning but, Bellet said, the developer wants to have a tenant secured before breaking ground.

“We’re going to have construction documents (and) pricing ready, and when the appropriate user comes into the market, we can deliver a building in 12 months,” Bellet said.

Pending rezoning approval, a total of 600,000 square feet of new office development could take place at Innovation Park, including the proposed 120,000-square-foot building. A small amount of retail — which Bellet said could be a food hall or other associated amenity for the offices — and the apartments are also included in the new rezoning.

New development at Innovation Park will take place on what’s currently surface parking, which Bellet said is largely underutilized on the west side of the campus. Structured parking will be developed on the property in conjunction with new projects.

A new road to connect the east and west sides of the campus is also planned, in addition to existing access off IBM Drive. Longer term, the park’s east side may be a good opportunity for build-to-suit development, Bellet said.

By May 1, a warehouse user will be vacating a 200,000-square-foot space at the property. Under the current zoning, industrial use isn’t allowed. Once that space is vacated, Bellet said it’ll be renovated into office space. With a 60,000-square-foot mezzanine, about 260,000 square feet will be coming to market for lease.

Although specifics haven’t been decided yet, Bellet said the space could accommodate one or multiple users, likely 50,000 square feet or larger. The renovations will include more windows for natural lighting and other modifications to make it more accessible, he added.

Innovation Park is home to a number of large, big-name tenants, including Allstate, Wells Fargo and Equitable Holdings. Bellet said, so far, it’s unknown whether tenants will seek real estate or lease modifications because of the Covid-19 pandemic — and changes in remote versus in-office work — but those decisions will drive the property’s future.

“We’re prepared to react to what our tenants are going to do ultimately,” he continued.