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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

BizWorthy: Uptown's Epicentre Looking For A Plan To Bring Back Customers

Chris Ballance
The Epicentre is trying to be more family friendly to increase business.

Charlotte’s Epicentre, with its bars and nightclubs, was once a center of nightlife in the city. But following a pair of deadly shootings last year, some business owners in the uptown complex say they’ve seen a drop in customers. 

Now, they’re asking the development’s owner for help in turning it around, including making it more family friendly. For more on this and other business news we’re joined now by Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

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Marshall Terry: Tony, you report that the owner of the Epicentre, California-based CIM Group, is supposed to present a plan for the complex in the next few weeks. So, any idea of what it might include?

Tony Mecia: That's kind of the big question about what can be done to sort of turn around the Epicentre. You know, a lot of people might not realize if they've moved to Charlotte recently, this was really the hot spot uptown eight, 10 years ago. It was to Charlotte 10 years ago, what South End really is to Charlotte now in terms of the nightlife and people going to clubs and that sort of thing.

I spoke with the Chief Financial Officer of Studio Movie Grill in there, and what he said was the owner is supposed to come back to all the tenants with a plan to help turn things around. He says they've seen their business drop off in the last 12 to 18 months, for, as you mentioned, there's been pretty high-profile, violent crimes there.

So the question is, what can they really do? I think a lot of it is going to center on security, making sure people feel safe if they go to the Epicentre. Maybe some programing, other things they can do to draw people there. The Studio Movie Grill executive said, yes, they'd like to see more families come to the Epicentre. Families used to go to the Epicentre to see movies and go out to dinner, but they're not doing that as much anymore.

Terry: And I know you spoke to the complex's original owner. Did he have any insights on how it can be turned around?

Mecia: Yeah, it was really interesting. Afshin Ghazi developed it about 10 years ago, it was really sort of his brainchild. He lost control of it in 2012 after the recession. There were some financial issues, it took over other ownership. And he said, it was a little bit surprising. ... He doesn't really talk a whole lot publicly, but what he said was that the Epicentre and developments like it, you don't just set them up and leave them. They don't run themselves. He said, in his words, it needed "TLC," you know, some "tender loving care." He didn't really expand on that too much, but he sort of laid a little bit of fault at some of the new owners, saying they just thought they could come in and the Epicentre would run itself.

Terry: As I mentioned, the Epicentre has had a run of bad publicity following two deadly shootings there last year. But as you report, there seems to be a bigger trend of Charlotte nightlife moving out of uptown. So what's driving the shift and where is the nightlife moving to?

Mecia: I'm probably the wrong person to be asking where the hot nightlife is moving to, Marshall. But from what I've read, there's a lot of action in South End. You see all kinds of bars and restaurants are opening up in South End. The Millennials get a lot of attention going out there, taking the scooters from bar to bar. I mean, it's just sort of the evolution of a city. That area has really benefited from the light rail line being in there, (and) a whole bunch of new apartment complexes. And the retail and the restaurants and the bars all follow where the apartment complexes are going. It's a desirable area, close to uptown. A lot of employment opportunities. So that's where a lot of that is moving.

But it is a little bit odd that in a growing city like Charlotte, where uptown is doing so well, that you wouldn't have a thriving entertainment spot closer to uptown. And there has been some talk. You might remember from a few weeks ago when David Tepper and this whole MLS team were announced, that one of the things that the city and the MLS team are going to be working on -- and the Panthers -- are gonna be working on, is this so-called entertainment district between Bank of America Stadium and the Gateway Station on Trade Street. And so I think there are some lessons there from the Epicenter: How do you create an entertainment district in a downtown area, if we're talking about doing that again?

Terry: Let's move now to SouthPark, where you found that there are plans for a new residential tower that would be one of the tallest buildings outside of uptown and South End. How tall are we talking here?

Mecia: I talked to the CEO of Dominion Realty, which says it wants to build an apartment tower across the street from the Nordstrom entrance of SouthPark Mall there on Fairview in the old Fifth Third Bank building. That's a couple of acres. And he's talking about somewhere in the range of 15 stories.

Now, it's not all figured out yet. They've got to figure out some of the design and the height permissions from the city. But, looking at about 15 stories, 360 or so apartments -- that would be the tallest residential building in SouthPark. And 15 stories is pretty big for outside of the center city. There's another 15-story building in SouthPark. There are, I believe, a couple under development in Ballantyne. Just sort of another day, another tower announced in Charlotte.

Terry: Well, is this going to be -- this sort of thing -- more common, these taller buildings away from the center city?

Mecia: We're really starting to see that a lot more. I think that's one of the really interesting storylines about development in Charlotte right now, is that in addition to all of this growth that you're seeing in uptown and South End, they get a lot of attention, rightfully so, you're also seeing a lot going on in more typically suburban areas like SouthPark, like Ballantyne. These were initially thought of as suburbs and now they're having these larger towers announced -- residential towers, office towers, mixed-use developments. So it's really taking on the characteristics of a more urban center out there in the suburbs.


Terry: Finally, Tony, I have to ask about something that The Ledger is doing this year: Charlotte's 40 over 40.

Mecia: Yes, Marshall. You know, there's a lot of recognition in this town for people who are under 40, there are awards programs that celebrate the many achievements of people in their 20s and 30s. Rightfully so. They're making our city a better place. But what the Charlotte Ledger is doing in the month of January, we're launching an awards program aimed at "40 over 40," where we're going to find and identify some of the unsung heroes in our midst, people who are volunteering in community organizations, PTAs, raising kids, excelling professionally, doing a lot of things to make Charlotte a better place -- and trying to give some recognition to people that maybe have a little bit of gray hair on our temples.