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February 2008
Obsessive Constructive
By Casey Jacobus

     Brothers Gregg and Shawn McAllister burst on the Charlotte scene in 1996, when they bought and renovated the Gin Mill, now a South End pub that’s become part of the trolley line party scene. The McAllisters handled their own renovation and construction needs for the restaurant.

    Word of their success spread and soon local business owners began contacting them for construction advice and project management. Over the past 10 years, their business has grown to include additional adaptive reuse projects, high end restaurants, retail and office space, as well as multifamily residential projects.

    In 1997 the brothers incorporated the company name, developed a logo, and adopted the slogan “Obsessive Constructive.”

    “The name suits us because of our attention to detail,” says Gregg. “We’re passionate about the business and the brand depicts us well.”

    Over the past decade, the company has become known for its care in planning, paying particular attention to cost analysis and efficient building practices. The brothers’ background as business owners themselves helps them understand financing requirements, market conditions and client needs. They are able to manage the entire building process from interacting with owner’s representatives to working with landlords and vendors.

    “McAllister is one of the few contractors who say they will do preconstruction services and then actually do it,” says Steve Starr, a partner with Tobin, Dudley & Starr Architects. “They develop budgets and cost estimates early on, encouraging collaboration from the beginning of a project.”

    “We’re not a typical construction business,” emphasizes Shawn. “We don’t just take a hammer and nail approach to a project. Coming out of constructing our own projects, we look at everything from the owner’s point of view. We put ourselves in the client’s footsteps.”

    Among the brothers’ recent projects are Queens Six Two Six, a luxury condominium development in Myers Park, Citispace, a three-acre adaptive re-use office campus in South End, and Southborough, a $12,000,000 mixed-use construction project, which encumbrances a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store and is also an innovative urban village unlike any other in the Southeast. Convenient to two new light rail stations, the project combines the “industrial chic” energy of Charlotte’s South End district with the calm elegance of the historic Dilworth neighborhood.

 

From the Ground Up

    Shawn and Gregg grew up in Spring Lake, New Jersey, where their father was a successful real estate developer. Larry McAllister’s own father had been an assembly line foreman and Larry was the first member of his family to break away from the factory and go to college.

     “He was willing to go out and take risks and he was rewarded for it,” says Shawn. “He taught us to work hard and to make sure we knew more than the next guy.”

    In 1991 Gregg came to Belmont Abbey College to get an education and to play soccer.   Two years later Shawn followed his brother to North Carolina, attending UNC Wilmington. While Gregg worked for Wachovia for a year after graduation, the brothers knew they really didn’t want to work for a big company.

    Young and ambitious, they bought an existing business and, after doing all the rehabilitative design and construction, found themselves the owner of the Gin Mill, now a thriving bar and restaurant.

    “We had to learn more about accounting and finance,” says Shawn, “but we established our business model.”

    The brothers met with a lot of success early on, building a base of clients through referrals. One of those projects was La Vecchia’s Seafood Grille in the Shops on the Green shopping center in Cornelius.

    Soon Gregg was bringing in more investment projects to the company, while Shawn continued to run the construction end of things. The brothers’ skill sets continued to improve as the jobs got harder and larger. They faced consistent challenges and as they accomplished these, they gained the confidence to tackle larger projects.

    They moved into multifamily construction with the $8 million project Queen Six Two Six, a 12-unit luxury condominium on Queens Road in Charlotte. A four-story steel and concrete structure with a brick veneer, fitting well with the adjacent Myers Park neighborhood, the building includes underground parking, a first floor wine room, covered balconies and a rooftop penthouse. The project was sold out prior to completion.

 

Attention to Detail

    As the young company grew, so did its reputation for paying attention to detail, allowing the client the freedom to focus on other matters. When restaurateur Alex Myrick built the upscale Table Restaurant & Bar in the Ballanytne Village Shopping Center, he hired McAllister to help control costs on the million-dollar plus project. Myrick credits McAllister’s knowledge of materials and the restaurant business with completing the project on time and budget.

    “From start to finish they were on top of everything before it became an issue,” says Myrick. “As an owner and client I was pleased that I was not bothered with small items; they just took care of it and kept me informed.”

    McAllister has recently taken on a mixed-use revitalization of four historic buildings located in downtown Gastonia, totaling over 50,000 square feet. Originally planned as a commercial development called South Street Arcade, the name was changed to The Standard when a residential component was added. The new name honors the Standard Hardware Building, which is the largest of the four South Street structures being redeveloped.

     Working with Narmour Wright Creech Architecture of Charlotte, McAllister plans to develop 11,725 square feet of Class A retail space, 5,500 square feet of office space, two 1,300 square-foot live/work lofts and eight spacious residential lofts. While preserving The Standard’s 1920s architecture, the project features hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, vaulted ceilings and wood and steel beams.

    McAllister’s current projects also include Citispace, a three-acre adaptive reuse office campus in South End and Southborough, an $18,000,000 multi-use project adjacent to the  Lowes Home Improvement store along the city’s light rail line. Southborough, an area along South Boulevard between Magnolia Ave and Iverson Way, is planned to act as a buffer between the Dilworth neighborhood and the forthcoming Lowe’s store.

    Citispace at South Tryon and Tremont Avenue is already home to McAllister, which occupies 3,500 square feet in a 17,000-square-foot renovated building dating back to the 1940s. When completed, the project will include three new buildings and a courtyard, all of which will be enclosed behind a decorative metal fence and electronic gates. McAllister plans to move to its new 5,500-square-foot home within the project later this year.

    “The new office space will reflect our growth and image,” says Shawn.

 

Pay Off

    Success has come quickly for Shawn and Gregg McAllister. Starting out at ages 21 and 23, respectively, they have thrived by taking on a task, doing it well, and improving their skill sets in the process. As the jobs get harder and larger, they look for what is similar in the new project to ones they have done in the past and, at the same time, look for the challenges they can accomplish and learn from for the future. And they have always been willing to work hard.

    “As Jerry Richardson says, ‘No matter what, you have to work hard,’” says Shawn.  “Beware of anything that seems easy, fast or simple. Rethink anything that begins with ‘Only….’”

    Because they are brothers and both are interested in sports (Gregg has coached soccer at Belmont Abbey for the past seven years), they are naturally competitive. Fortunately, Shawn says they are not competitive with each other. Rather they compliment each other in skills and abilities. As the company has grown, Gregg has become responsible for the Real Estate Development Division, while Shawn runs the Construction Division. When the occasional conflict occurs, the brothers resolve it behind closed doors.

    “There is nothing diplomatic about how we settle things,” laughs Shawn.

Despite their passion for business and their obsession with detail, the McAllister brothers can play as hard as they work. Both of them own homes in Charleston, where Gregg likes to play golf, go boating, and fish with his family, which includes two young sons. Shawn, who was recently married and expecting his first child, enjoys boxing and the martial arts.

    “Work does not define me,” says Gregg. “While I’m passionate about business, family comes first.”

 

Management Team

    In addition to valuing time spent with their own young families, the McAllister brothers are proud and appreciative of the management team they have put together.

    “The folks who make a living with us are our extended family,” says Gregg. “Each of them is an expert in their own area and they are the key to our success.”

The city of Charlotte has also contributed to the McAllister’s success. Its geographic location, population growth, and job growth have helped the young entrepreneurs evolve into mature business people.

    Charlotte is a great place to be self-employed,” asserts Gregg.

     In addition, the brothers say, Charlotte has a number of good honest people who have been willing to offer advice and support. Among those who have acted as mentors to the young company are influential restaurateur Jim Verney; attorney Bob Hord; Dennis Kenna, president of Heede Southeast, which supplies tower cranes for major building projects; Tony Pressley, president and CEO of Mecca Properties and the “godfather” of South End development; as well as Bill Egan, an executive at Sonic Automotive and Gregg’s father-in-law.

    “We were really young when we started, with more work ethic and drive than brains or experience,” says Gregg. “My advice to others in the same place is to seek advice in order to avoid mistakes.”

    Neither Gregg nor Shawn are ready to rest on their accomplishments. They have big dreams for the future, expecting to build on the name and reputation that McAllister has acquired over the past 10 years to take on multiple projects on a larger scale.

    “We’ll take what we’ve learned and apply it to other businesses,” says Gregg. “With the core management team we’ve built, we’ll be able to take significant roles in other ventures.”

    Shawn echoes Gregg: “With the people we have working for us, the potential is endless.”

    Diversity is key to the McAllister future. They have never allowed themselves to become pigeon-holed. Before they were builders, they were entrepreneurs, and they still own multiple businesses and develop projects for their own portfolio. Specializing in high-end retail restaurant and office upfits and having acquired expertise in the development of luxury condominiums, mixed-use communities, and urban renewal, the partners are about to turn their attention in a new direction. In March they plan to launch a new transportation company.

    “Ten years down the road, its possible we’ll own five companies in different areas,” laughs Gregg.

    “It all boils down to ‘one day at a time’ and a lot of hard work,” adds Shawn. “Mom always told us to ‘Be happy and challenge yourself.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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