SBJ/June 20 - 26, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Development increases around RBC Center

Long-anticipated development around the RBC Center in Raleigh may finally be taking off, with veteran office builder Harold Lichtin staking claim to an elevated site at a heavily traveled intersection nearby.

Lichtin plans to build about 250,000 square feet of office space at the intersection of Wade Avenue and Edwards Mill Road. The site is part of a 168-acre tract owned by Forty Wade Investors Inc., a group led by Cary, N.C., investors Tim Smith and Bubba Rawl.

“The office portion has the greatest visibility on Wade Avenue,” said Karen Lichtin, director of leasing for Lichtin Corp. of Raleigh. “You can’t ask for a better location to put a name on a building.”

At least four major office buildings are in the works near the arena, which opened in 1999.
She said a contract to purchase the office site is close to being signed.

Smith is putting the finishing touches on a master plan for the entire 168 acres, which were acquired from the state in August for $14.5 million, or about $86,000 an acre.

RBC Center opened in 1999. The arena is home to the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State University’s men’s basketball program.

Forty Wade Investors is not alone in seeing opportunity near the RBC Center:

n A group of private investors has started building the 59,000-square-foot Arena Centre office building on Sunday Drive near Trinity Road. It will open in February.

n Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina is building the Arena Place office condominiums on Sunday Drive. That project will include four buildings, two of which are under construction and presold.

n Starmount Co. has a building permit for a 72,000-square-foot office building on Sunday Drive, but the development group is waiting for a prelease tenant before starting construction, said Brad Rice of Starmount’s Raleigh office.

Grubb & Ellis/Thomas Linderman Graham in Raleigh is marketing both Arena Place and Arena Centre. “There’s enough market out there to accommodate both of those,” said company President Rex Thomas.

Thomas also is bullish about prospects at Forty Wade Investors’ property. “Demand for residential is already there. Demand is there for retail,” Thomas said.

The 168-acre site near the RBC Center was rezoned for mixed use in 2003 when Birmingham, Ala.-based Colonial Properties Trust had the land under contract. Colonial planned to build up to 1.2 million square feet of office, 225,000 square feet of retail and more than 700 single-family and multifamily residences. The Alabama company abandoned the project, putting the land back on the market.

Smith’s plan probably will include more residential development and fewer commercial properties. He is expected to file a new master plan with the city by the fall.

Another nearby site also is being gobbled up by Smith and his group. Forty Wade Investors has a contract to buy a nine-acre hotel site owned by the Charles Winston family adjacent to the Cardinal Gibbons High School campus, according to Wake County records. Winston Hotels of Raleigh planned to build an upscale hotel at the site to accommodate visitors to the RBC Center.

Smith has said it was his intention to sell off the property in pieces to other developers. Smith and Rawl followed a similar scenario in the 1990s when the duo purchased much of the property that is now the upscale Weston and Preston mixed-use developments in Cary with financing help from SAS founder Jim Goodnight. Smith and Rawl also were partners in purchasing the land for Wakefield Plantation, which they quickly sold to other developers for a profit.

As for the property near the RBC Center, it is in proximity to Lichtin Corp.’s Palisades office park on Trinity Road, which includes two Class A office buildings. The second Palisades building is under construction and is 50 percent leased, Karen Lichtin said. “I don’t feel it will compete with this new project,” she said.

Amanda Jones is a writer for Triangle Business Journal.

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