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August 2009
Living Large at Lake Norman
By Casey Jacobus

     After four years of planning, construction on the $900 million Langtree At The Lake development is set to begin this fall. Once completed, it will offer a unique resort community just a short drive up Interstate 77 from Charlotte. Its luxurious residential, upscale retail, and fine dining opportunities, as well as its hotel, office and recreational elements will give many more people a place to play, work or stay at Lake Norman.

     Lake Norman has become almost inaccessible to the community,” says developer Rick Howard of The Langtree Group. “Two hundred thousand people who live within ten miles of the lake do not have access to it. We plan to open four miles of shoreline to the public.”

     Howard, whose family built a home on the Langtree peninsula in the early 1960s, watched the lake water flood the barren land in his front yard as Duke Power created the 50-square-mile lake as part of its construction of Cowan’s Ford Dam. He grew up understanding the community around him and the heritage of the nearby small towns of Mooresville, Mount Mourne and Davidson.

     He watched as the development of multimillion-dollar single-family homes began to dominate the Lake Norman shoreline. He observed the impact on the area when Lowe’s Home Improvement Corporation opened its headquarters in Mount Mourne near the planned Langtree Road connection to Interstate 77. And, after 30 years of doing business in the area, he knew it still lacked many amenities like fine dining restaurants, a convention center, and luxury apartments. “There wasn’t even a hotel where guests could look out over and enjoy the lake,” he says, shaking his head.

     Gradually Howard developed a vision of a “community within a community” that would bring new business opportunities, jobs and residential amenities to the area.

“I wanted to create something to improve the quality of life; something that would provide amenities, not just to those who live here, but as a destination for others to come here,” says Howard.

     Eventually, the concept for Langtree At The Lake began to take shape. Howard envisioned a community that would mix luxurious rental units with lakefront condominiums, upscale retail with class A office space, a hotel and conference center with a lakefront boardwalk.

     He started putting together a team of like-minded and experienced developers and to acquire the necessary property. He began to recruit the type of businesses he wanted to see in the development, and held meetings with Duke Power representatives, elected officials, and members of the community to hear their concerns.

     “We listened and made a lot of changes,” says Howard. “We were constantly asking, ‘Is this the right thing for the community? Does this make sense?’”

     Gradually, Howard acquired land around the new Interstate 77 interchange at Exit 32 south of Lowe’s headquarters. By talking with each of about 30 landowners, one at a time, Howard bought over 300 acres. Langtree At The Lake now covers all four quadrants of Exit 32, sitting between Lowes and Ingersoll-Rand corporate campuses.

     “I did it the old fashioned way,” says Howard. “I acquired the land one person, one family at a time. And I actually paid for the land; I didn’t just option it.”

Howard also began to put together his team of developers. In addition to his son Brad, his partners include Wayne Turner and David Parker.

     Brad is chief operating officer of the Langtree Group. He is a UNC Charlotte graduate with a degree in marketing and also has his real estate broker’s license. He served for eight years as COO for Carolina Component Concepts, a manufacturer of photo frame components, puzzles, games, and POP packaging.

     Turner, treasurer, is a Mooresville-area CPA of thirty-five years and co-owner of the largest recreational vehicle park on Lake Norman. He provides financial, accounting and tax advice to the companies related to the Langtree project.

     Parker, secretary and general counsel, is an attorney in Iredell County specializing in land development, business transactions, litigation, and related matters. He spearheads the transactional, regulatory and corporate governance aspects of the Langtree project.

     David Jacobs, a principal of Atrium Development with twenty-five years of experience in all phases of real estate development, met Howard four years ago. He says, “It was love at first sight. I appreciated what Rick was trying to do. He was building a new community and, at the same time, maintaining respect for the heritage of the existing community.”

     Jacobs is now chairman of the board at the Langtree Group. He is responsible for project marketing and leasing, as well as coordinating the development team and focusing on the financing structure.

 

Live, Work, Play Village

     Howard and his team are building what they call “a village lifestyle center.” In addition to luxurious for-sale and for-lease multifamily residences, upscale retail and class A office space, a hotel, and a conference center, Langtree At The Lake will have almost every amenity you can imagine including a yacht club, pools, health clubs, and a planned par 3 golf course. It will feature more than five miles of walking trails, including a 4-mile boardwalk along Lake Norman and 2.5 miles around an 8-acre manmade lake with a faux bridge and a 24-foot waterfall.

     As Howard says, “These amenities will make Langtree At The Lake a premier ‘live, work, play village’. This is not a big box community. We’re building something unique, which has never been done in this area before.”

     A recent feasibility study by Real Property Research Group, a Maryland-based firm, confirms Howard’s belief that he has the opportunity to build something very special. Senior Analyst Jerry Levin and Managing Principal Robert Lagerfeld summarized their findings, saying: “We believe that Langtree At the Lake represents a unique opportunity to develop a luxury mixed use community quite unlike anything that the Charlotte area has experienced in the past.”

     The study cites four key factors that support that conclusion: an unparallel location between the western shore of Lake Norman and Interstate 77; easy access to large and growing employment centers both in Mooresville and nearby Kannapolis, as well as a direct route to downtown Charlotte; an established, affluent population located around Lake Norman; and an experienced and sophisticated development team.

     Plans for Langtree At The Lake call for 650 for-sale and for-lease luxury residential units, 600,000 square feet of commercial space, and 220,000 square feet of retail space. When the project is completed, it will provide 20 percent of the total property tax for the town of Mooresville, even thought it contains less that 2 percent of the land mass. It could also double the income the town receives from the hotel occupancy tax. As a bonus, the development is expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs.

    Howard has carefully recruited the mix in the commercial portion of the project. He has plans for a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, very similar to the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Myrtle Beach that he owns. There will also be a 14,000-square-foot 4-star Gateway Child Development Center, thanks to Jacobs who developed the Columbia-based Gateway business.

     “Almost every type of business has approached us,” says Howard. “Some fit, some don’t. We don’t want the same things that are available at every other Interstate 77 exit. We are a unique destination. We want restaurants and retail that people will drive here for.”

     He found the anchor for the commercial portion of the project when John Q. Hammonds Hotels & Resorts signed on to build a 12-story Embassy Suites Hotel with 300-plus rooms and 80,000 square feet of meeting space in an adjacent convention center. The project, expected to cost $75 to $85 million, will be similar to the Embassy Suites Charlotte-Concord Golf Resort & Spa plus convention center. Construction is expected to begin early next year, with completion expected in 2011.

 

Moving Heaven and Earth

     The state of the economy has put the Langtree At The Lake project behind schedule by about one and half years. The credit crunch has been the biggest obstacle in getting the first phase of the project started.

     “The banks are closed,” says Howard. “You can’t build, if you can’t get capital.”

With bankers reluctant to finance new commercial development, Langtree At The Lake is seeking $15 million in revenue bonds issued by the town of Mooresville for roads, sewer, and water improvements.

     Last August, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized financing public infrastructure with bonds secured by assessments on the land. In March the Mooresville town commissioners approved Langtree’s request to form a Special Assessment Improvement District. Although this kind of bond financing is new to North Carolina, it has been used in over 40 states in the country for many years.

     The delay in construction has also led to some changes to the Langtree project itself. The developers spent time focusing on the market and, as a result, changed the overall mix of the project, reducing the number of condominiums and increasing the number of luxury apartments. They also reduced the size of many of the residential units by 15 to 20 percent to make it easier for buyers to get financing.

     After talking with town planners, the developers also reduced the size of the development overall, lowering the number of residents in some of the condo buildings from as many as 90 residents to between 24 and 50.

     The first building set for construction this fall is a 24-unit condo building called The Residence at Langtree, with an average unit price of $450,000, down from $650,000 in earlier plans. Construction of a second 24-unit condo building will begin shortly after the first. Choate Construction Company, based in Atlanta, is the contractor.

     In addition to Choate, Howard has assembled a group of project experts who are contributing their experience and knowledge to the development. Cole Jenest & Stone, a civil engineering and site design firm, will cover the land planning, civil engineering, and urban design. Brian Jenest is the partner at the firm with primary responsibility for the Langtree At The Lake project. Marc Warren, a partner in JHS Architecture, is the primary architect for the residential design. Parsons Brinckerhoff, PB, will do the traffic engineering. Charlie Willis, principal of Willis Engineers, brings his 30 years experience with wastewater and water engineering in the Lake Norman and Charlotte markets to the project.

     Cushman & Wakefield’s Charlotte affiliate, Commercial Carolina, brings an advanced team to the table for marketing the retail opportunities, and NAI Global, with its network of 5,000 professionals and 325 offices in 55 countries, will help manage the commercial space.

     The delay in getting construction underway has had at least one fortuitous consequence for the project. During the last year another 206 acres of property has become available and the Langtree Group was able to bring it in as part of the project.

     The developers have also taken steps to lessen the environmental impact on Lake Norman, moving buildings 100 feet back from the water, more than twice the required distance, and opting to put boats in a dry storage facility, rather than keeping them in the water.

     “Our strength is that we’re in the right location,” says Howard. “We’ve gone to every degree to avoid making mistakes. We have an opportunity to build something special. In the future, people will know someone planned this; it didn’t just happen.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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