By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
Plans for a “landmark building” on the old Cornelius Police Station lot got a kickstart Monday, as the town board voted unanimously to approve a contract with The Stewart Group, a developer that aims to purchase the land for $100,000. The group now has one year to line up interested tenants for the proposed retail and office space and submit final construction plans to the town.
The town demolished the old police building in March 2009, and since then has been considering options for the lot, which is at N.C. 115 and Catawba Avenue. About a year ago, the town asked seven businesses to submit proposals for the site, and two responded with interest.
“(The Stewart Group’s) was by far the best bid we received,” Town Manager Anthony Roberts said.
The Davidson-based Stewart Group has experience with similar downtown-area projects. In 2009 developer David Stewart built a $4.5 million mixed-use building called Stowe’s Corner on the former Stowe’s Exxon site in downtown Davidson.
“I’m a big believer in infill projects,” Mr. Stewart said – that is, using existing infrastructure and properties to enhance a downtown area. Stowe’s Corner now houses the popular Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse on its ground floor and other businesses, including a hair salon, on its upper levels.
The Stewart Group’s proposal for the Cornelius police lot calls for a two-story masonry building designed to complement the surrounding buildings. The developer plans to work with architecture firm Cole, Jenest & Stone of Charlotte, whose other local projects have included the Cornelius library, Cornelius Town Hall and the current Cornelius Police Station.
The irregular shape of the land and the existing infrastructure – including Town Hall adjacent on Catawba Avenue and Memories Pawn Shop and Sweetcakes Bakery on N.C. 115 – required Mr. Stewart and his team to find creative solutions for design and parking. They worked closely with town planners to address the issue of limited parking, and came to an agreement much like the one Stowe’s Corner has with the town of Davidson: The building will offer some under-structure parking on the first level, and the town will offer additional shared parking spaces in the Town Hall parking lot, just behind the site.
The structural plans include a ground floor with about 5,000 square feet of retail space and a second floor with about 9,000 square feet of office space. The plans also describe an optional rooftop terrace that would be open to the public for meetings and gatherings.
The group had to commit $5,000 with its bid, and the contract approved Monday essentially allows them to “reserve” the space for a year while they look for tenants and finalize plans.
“That’s the key on a lot of different levels,” Mr. Stewart said. The users dictate what practical functions the building space needs to serve, and therefore the final design, he said.
Though tenant needs may require tweaks to the plans, he doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the original design. Any design changes would need to go back to the town for approval.
While the building space would support a wide variety of tenants, there are some specific types of businesses that residents and developers would both like to see in there.
“I think a restaurant would be ideal, and a bank would too,” Mr. Stewart said. The town also may consider the space for an arts center, town staff members have said, but discussion about that is premature. The town is in the process of evaluating its needs and objectives for an arts center and will not make any decisions until that evaluation is complete.
“It could very easily be an arts center,” Mr. Stewart said. “It would be very easy to create that on the second story, and it would bring even more energy and momentum downtown.”
Approved uses for the first floor of the building, as listed in the proposal, include specialized retail uses, such as shops for flowers, jewelry and gifts, a bank and a small restaurant. Approved uses for the second floor include office uses, but exclude dental and medical uses. All uses of the building must be in compliance with the town’s Land Development Code and prospective tenants will need to be approved by the town before the developer breaks ground.
COST IS A FACTOR
The economic climate has changed the way developers need to think about tenants, Mr. Stewart said.
“There needs to be a compelling reason for people to come to downtown Cornelius,” like a unique building space with surrounding growth and development, but for most business owners the promise of a “cool” site is no longer enough, he said. “You (as a developer) also need to be able to compete on price,” he said.
“People are much more aware of that, and want to make sure what they’re doing makes fiscal sense,” he said. So his group will remain sensitive to that fact as they recruit tenants to what he’s confident will be a “vibrant, active downtown” spot.
“Cornelius’ downtown does have some vitality and some merchants in there, and this is a way to bring some more,” he said.
Sept. 15, 2011, “Developer proposes ‘landmark building’ on old PD lot.”