CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Epicentre wants to be more than a place young people gather to drink.
Following years of legal wrangling and allegations of financial shenanigans by the original developer, some $15 million worth of renovations by the new owners are well underway, and a slew of new restaurants promising to be more friendly to families and daytime diners are on the way.
“(Epicentre) had the feel that someone just stopped,” said Ed Camp, director of business development at the Epicentre for property management firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “It just looked incomplete.”
A new, 36,000-square foot Gold’s Gym opened in the Epicentre this summer. And the complex has signed leases for a new, 6,241-square-foot Italian restaurant, La Tagliatela, a 2,297-square-foot Hibachi Grill, and a 7,666-square-foot eatery, Tin Roof.
The development is now 93 percent leased, Camp told the Observer on Tuesday. That’s up from 87 percent about six months ago.
A tapas bar and lounge, Bubble, is being built on the second floor above Emzy, and Mexican cantina Vida is expanding to take over additional store spaces. Whisky River recently started serving lunch, and Wild Wing Cafe underwent a total renovation. The management group is looking at a diner to round out the first floor’s restaurant selection.
“We call it ‘Through day, into night,’ ” said Camp, discussing management’s approach to finding more well-rounded tenants for the center.
The more than 300,000-square-foot development also gained valuable exposure when it was the broadcasting site for several national media organizations, including CNN and Bloomberg, during the Democratic National Convention.
The timeline of the development’s renovation was accelerated to be ready in time for the convention. Camp said the Epicentre estimates as many as 350 million people saw coverage broadcast from there during the week of the DNC.
The development, hemmed by hotels, the transit center, a light-rail stop and office buildings, spent years wending its way through court proceedings and financial troubles. A group of investors called Blue Air 2010 LLC bought the Epicentre’s $94 million construction loan in 2010 while it was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In August, a federal judge ordered original developer Afshin Ghazi to sign documents giving up all of his ownership interests in the complex. In court documents, Blue Air said Ghazi had falsified financial records, complicating the settlement process.
Now, the Epicentre is preparing to launch a new website on Jan. 2. A new advertising campaign is cranking up, and will begin in earnest in January as well, with a heavy emphasis on mobile and social media elements.
“We’ve got to establish that name so people know what it really is,” said Camp.
‘A touch of completeness’
Many of the new changes at the Epicentre are simply designed to dispel the impression of a half-finished project, Camp said. Some are as simple as painting concrete columns that were previously left unfinished.
They’re meant to give the complex a “brighter, lighter, cleaner, newer” look.
Among the other changes visible at the Epicentre:
• A ticker-tape digital display with news and other information is being installed at the corner of Trade and College streets.
• Several new digital advertising boards have been added to the exterior.
• The Epicentre name and logos have been added to numerous locations on the outside and inside of the complex. “There was no branding at all before,” said Camp.
• New directories and guides to where businesses are. “A year ago, if you walked into Epicentre, you had no idea where you were,” said Camp.
• A permanent valet lounge, built of glass and limestone, has replaced the temporary stand.
• All new planters and plants, additional light fixtures, and iron grates and scrollwork added throughout the complex.
No detail is too small for Camp: Walking through the complex’s open middle courtyard, Camp bent down to pick up a discarded cellophane candy wrapper and threw it away. A nearby security guard chided a man for spitting in the courtyard.
Some parts of the development remain in limbo. Camp said the owners are still evaluating options and deciding what to do with a proposed condominium development that was to have accompanied the Epicentre. Unfinished rebar still pokes from the roof on the complex’s Trade Street side.
Through all of those changes, Camp hopes to ultimately change the Epicentre’s perception to a more inclusive, all-day hangout spot. “The challenge Epicentre had,” he said, “is when it opened, it was marketed as a nightspot.”