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July 2013
Placemaking and Community Building
By Jim Froneberger

     When you listen to Charlotte developer Peter A. Pappas talk, it doesn’t take long to understand why he’s been so successful in the Charlotte real estate market. He absolutely loves what he does.

     “I really enjoy real estate,” beams Pappas. “It’s not just my career. It’s my hobby and it’s my passion. I don’t feel like I’m going to work. I’m just going to do something I love doing every day.”

     Over the last 25 years, Pappas has been at the center of some of the most transformative real estate projects in the Charlotte region—Phillips Place, Birkdale Village, Metropolitan, and now Sharon Square—all innovative developments that have changed the way area residents live, work, dine and shop.

     Guided by two of the most influential real estate developers in Charlotte history—Johnny Harris and Smoky Bissell—Pappas learned the trade from the best and has continued to expand the boundaries with his own firm, Pappas Properties, and a new venture announced in May, Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners.


Mixing It Up

     A native of Charlotte, Peter Pappas joined The Bissell Companies in 1984, shortly after graduating from N.C. State University. Working for Bissell during a key period in Charlotte’s growth exposed Pappas to the full breadth of the real estate business, from marketing to land development.

     “I had two terrific mentors in Smoky Bissell and Johnny Harris,” says Pappas. “It was the best of both worlds. Johnny was a tremendous marketer and advocate for Charlotte, and Smoky taught me the fundamentals of the development business, the numbers, and the financing. His instincts were outstanding, so he knew the right thing to do, and he knew when to do it.”

     In 1991, Johnny Harris saw an opportunity to focus on corporate services, property management, and development. So Pappas joined with Harris, Pat Clayton, and Ben Trotter to form The Harris Group. A few years later, the Harris team had the opportunity to develop an exceptional piece of real estate owned by the Phillips family on Fairview Road near SouthPark.

     “I called on Tom Phillips, who was a family friend, and suggested that when they were ready to do something with that property, The Harris Group wanted a chance to do something special there,” recalls Pappas.

     “Tom called me one day and said they were ready to evaluate options, so I spent the better part of 12 months going around the country looking at different multi-use and mixed-used projects like Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Reston Town Center outside of D.C., Lake Forest outside of Chicago, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton,” he continues.

     Reston Town Center and Mizner Park were newer projects that particularly intrigued Pappas. Both included retail space situated along a main street, with housing and offices located above the retail. To him, this was the ideal concept for the Phillips property, but at the time, Charlotte had no suburban mixed-use zoning that seemed to allow residential to be located atop retail space.

     “We showed Planning Director Martin Crampton our vision for the property and said we weren’t sure if there was a zoning category that would allow mixed-used development in the suburbs,” explains Pappas. “They [the planning staff] actually wrote a text amendment to the CC zoning category for Phillips Place.

     “It was an exciting project for us because not only was it new in terms of mixing uses, but it also created a framework where we could go out and talk to some tenants who were not yet in the Charlotte market. The Harris Group was able to secure early commitments from Dean & DeLuca and The Palm, which helped make the project very successful.”

     The Harris Group’s success with Phillips Place got Pappas even more interested in the trend toward mixed-use development. So in 1999, he decided to go out on his own to pursue those types of projects, and Pappas Properties was born.


National Recognition with Birkdale Village

     As Pappas was transitioning out of Harris, he and Johnny Harris had already begun working with Allen Tate on a building adjacent to Phillips Place featuring high-end retail shops, office space for the Tate headquarters, and penthouse condominiums. He brought that project along with him into his new firm, as well as a golf course community located near Huntersville on which The Harris Group had begun development. That community was called Birkdale, and its residents were clamoring for more retail options in northern Mecklenburg.

     Almost immediately, the opportunity emerged to buy what Pappas felt was the premier development site in the Huntersville/Cornelius market, located on Sam Furr Road near Interstate 77, just across from the Birkdale community. Developing the site to its potential was a larger project than the new firm could undertake alone, so the Crosland Group came on board as a joint venture partner.

     Combining Pappas’s experience with Phillips Place and Crosland’s extensive retail connections, the result was Birkdale Village, a mixed-use project with retail, office and residential. Like Phillips Place, the project included a multitude of smaller shops and restaurants organized around a main street and village “Green,” with apartments located above the retail. But unlike Phillips Place, the new development also featured larger retailers like Barnes and Noble and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

     “Birkdale Village appealed to a different demographic than Phillips Place,” explains Pappas. “The public realm at Birkdale Village was the Green, and the interactive fountain in the center of the project became a great gathering spot for families. We organized the restaurants around the Green with outdoor seating, and the project met the needs of that area very well.”

     Pappas and Crosland earned recognition for Birkdale Village’s mixed-use community including an International Design and Development Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers as one of nine developments around the world recognizing “outstanding shopping center projects that have successfully solved many different problems and can truly be held up as examples of what can be accomplished with a lot of hard work and creativity.”

     Birkdale Village was also honored by the National Association of Home Builders with its Pillars of the Industry Award as the best mixed-use development in America, It was also an international finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s prestigious Award for Excellence.


Adding Metropolitan Value

     In 2001, the Midtown Square Mall property between Kings Drive and Kenilworth came on the market. The Rouse Company owned the mall itself, and the Episcopal Diocese owned the land. Home Depot was interested in the site for an Expo Design Center, so Pappas worked out a partnership with Home Depot to redevelop the site into a new mixed-use development called Metropolitan.

     For many years, city and county leaders had envisioned a park and greenway along Little Sugar Creek between Freedom Park and CPCC. The creek had been capped over for decades to create surface parking for the old mall, but Pappas saw an opportunity to help leaders realize the vision by uncapping the creek and incorporating the greenway into the redevelopment plan. Over the next few years, Pappas worked closely with the city and county to create a project that would be an asset to the larger community.

     “Our vision at Pappas Properties is to create places and build communities that add value to the cities that we work in,” says Pappas. “We’ve always said that any project that we undertake would need to check that box or we wouldn’t do it.”

     It took several years to get the existing mall leases terminated, negotiate public participation in the parking decks, insure the greenway was going to be built, and get the surrounding public infrastructure improved. The mall was demolished, Colonial Properties Trust and Collett & Associates entered the partnership and helped secure Target as a second anchor, and the project broke ground in 2006. Target and Home Depot opened in 2007, but the 101 residential units came to market just as housing was falling off of a cliff.

     “We were very fortunate to get the retail and office space stabilized very quickly with a good tenant mix and a great collection of restaurants and other merchants,” says Pappas. “It took us a while to move through the housing because of the economy, but all of the residential condominiums are now sold, and the office  and retail was sold to JP Morgan in February of this year.”

     Another Pappas project, Charlotte Cotton Mills, is a mixed-use complex located near Fifth Street and Graham in uptown Charlotte. It was developed in conjunction with the Historic Landmarks Commission and Crescent Resources to save two historic cotton mills and build high-density apartments behind the old mills.

     In addition, Pappas is developing Berewick, a suburban master-planned community in southwest Mecklenburg near Lake Wylie featuring first-time move-up housing. He also hopes to break ground within 18 months on a transit-oriented residential development at the Scaleybark Station on the Lynx Blue Line.


Sharon Square and Terwilliger

     In 2008, Pappas, Allen Tate, and four other limited partners acquired a prime piece of property in SouthPark at Sharon Road and Fairview for future development as a mixed-use project. Since 2008 wasn’t the best time to break ground on a new project, the team was patient, waiting for the right anchor tenants to come forward. Whole Foods emerged as that anchor, and in August 2012, they opened their first Charlotte store on the Fairview Road side of the property.

     As soon as Whole Foods opened in August, Pappas and Tate broke ground for the apartment units, which will also feature 21,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the street level. On the Sharon Road frontage, steel framing is now rising on SouthPark’s first new Class A office building since 2007. By the second quarter of 2014, the new 100,000 square foot building will house Sun Trust Bank’s regional headquarters. Pappas sees Sharon Square as a very walkable mixed-use environment, featuring restaurants with outdoor seating, small boutiques, and other retailers.

     Pappas also sees more people choosing to rent rather than own, as they make a lifestyle choice to spend their time and money traveling or socializing with the friends rather than maintaining a home. In response to that trend, Pappas has recently announced Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners with former Trammel Crow Residential CEO J. Ronald Terwilliger. The partnership will develop multifamily projects in the Southeast’s fastest growing markets.

     Terwilliger Pappas is currently underway with construction on Crabtree Village, a 292-unit apartment community adjacent to the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. In Charlotte, they are developing 239 luxury units that are a part of Sharon Square. The partnership also has two sites under contract in Atlanta, has begun to explore opportunities in the Nashville market, and hopes to acquire additional sites in Charlotte and Raleigh.


Southeastern Growth Opportunities

     Pappas sees good things ahead for the Charlotte real estate market as the economy continues its recovery from the recession. He says Charlotte’s well-coordinated economic development efforts that have landed new employers like Chiquita and MetLife are getting results.

     “Charlotte’s enjoying strong job growth, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such positive indicators on the housing front,” explains Pappas. “The for-sale housing market is improving, and the apartment market is very active. In retail, specialty retail and infill retail are beginning to improve. We have not seen a lot of new retail development in the suburbs yet, but retail follows the rooftops, so now that housing starts are picking up dramatically, I think you will soon see more activity in the suburbs.”

     “The infill markets have had a lot of activity recently,” he continues. “Young people are leasing apartments along the transit line, and there is high quality development for empty nesters that want to stay in the neighborhood but don’t want to continue to maintain a large home. But we’re also seeing good communities develop in the areas around the outer belt for families who need more space and seek different amenities. So you really have both types of offerings in this market. I think that is very healthy for Charlotte.”

     “In about four months we’ve put together a really strong team,” says Pappas. “Terwilliger Pappas is going to be synergistic with Pappas Properties. As we find mixed-use sites, our team at Pappas will work on the retail and the office, and Terwilliger Pappas will work on the apartments. We’ll also be able to pursue standalone multi-family opportunities in all of these markets.”

     “It’s a great opportunity to be involved in a community as exciting as Charlotte,” concludes Pappas. “As the past chair of the Charlotte Chamber, I love Charlotte, and I really enjoy seeing all of these very positive things happening in our community. Charlotte has a tremendous amount to offer, and we’re excited to be a part of that. We want to make sure that whatever we do here is an asset to this community.”



 Photo: Fenix Fotography

Jim Froneberger is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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