Ned Curran was beaming Thursday as Bissell Cos. held the “topping out” ceremony for its second speculative office building under construction at Ballantyne.
Curran, Bissell’s president and CEO, talked with me before the event about a range of topics, including Ballantyne’s present and future, political talk of incorporating the massive development in south Charlotte and Ballantyne’s role with the Democratic National Convention.
The 10-story, 275,000-square-foot Gragg Building and its mirror building, the Woodward Building, together comprise the largest speculative office project in the nation slated for completion in 2012. They’re part of Ballantyne Corporate Park, a 535-acre, master-planned office and business community that includes more than 4.3 million square feet of office space and nearly 600 hotel rooms as well as restaurants, medical facilities and stores.
Here’s an excerpt of my Q&A with Curran, edited for space and clarity. For the full Q&A, read the MoneyWise section in Sunday's Observer.
Q: How’s business, as if I have to ask?
A: Business is good. We’re coming off back-to-back record years in terms of leasing activity. More hotel room nights than we’ve ever had in the history of our company. Our momentum is good, so we’re pretty optimistic about 2012.
Q: With all the construction going on out here, what do you know that other developers don’t?
A: There’s risk associated with speculative office projects. We started these buildings without one committed customer to the product, but we’ve had momentum now for three years in a row of leasing 500,000 to 600,000 square feet a year, so this is right in that range. When we look at the delivery of this product relative to what our demand has been, it should all square off fairly well.
We’re simply responding to the demand that we’re experiencing rather than taking a leap of faith that somebody’s going to show up. We have over 1 million square feet of active prospects for the Ballantyne submarket alone. All of those won’t commit to us, but we’ll convert a lot of those into successful leases.
Q: Do you have any leases you can announce now for the two spec buildings?
A: We do not have any committed leases for the spec buildings, but we’re in active discussions with several parties.
Q: What’s next for Ballantyne?
A: We continue to try to innovate the common spaces, the public spaces to react to the employee who’s there today as technology changes how they work. We’re trying to create spaces where they can work inside a building and outside a building, so we’re constantly examining the spaces between the buildings. At the same time, we’re thinking about the next (office) building -- where should it go, how big should it be, what elements should it have in response to environmental and sustainable features. We’re trying to evolve with the customer.