CHARLOTTE-Even though PA-based developer LCOR Inc. has a deal with the city to purchase the old 3.3-acre convention center site here for $15.2 million, and has had trouble putting first-deposit money on the table, the developer is still submitting plans to expand its original $218 million development plan. The city’s price equates to $4.6 million or $105.74 per sf.

The original plan was to include a 30-story office tower; a 250-room hotel; 293 apartments; 125 condominiums; a movie theater; an aquarium; 206,000 sf of retail; a trolley car stop and 1,350 parking spaces.

LCOR’s expanded version would add all of the following to the original plan and push the development price to $311 million: a 150-room extended-stay hotel; an 88,000-sf theater and public space; 21,000 more sf feet of retail; 500 more parking spaces, and last but most aesthetic, an elevated 1.5-acre garden/park in the center of the complex.

John Infantino, vice president of LCOR, describes the park as a small urban oasis, with sculptures, fountains and benches. Since parks are a county responsibility, Mecklenburg County commissioners are considering helping to build the 1.5-acre park.

Although City Council members are reeling over LCOR’s ambitious plans, some Charlotte urban planners think the project makes sense and have convinced the council to think big for the good of the center city.

City engineer Jim Schumacher tells the project is up for discussion again by the city council, primarily to resolve financial issues.

“LCOR’s contract called for part of the earnest money to go hard (nonrefundable) about 30 days ago, and at that time the council agreed to restructure the schedule,” Schumacher says. “It was originally to be $150,000 that would go hard at that time.”

The council revised it to a $25,000, $50,000 and $75,000 schedule over 90 days. “The $25,000 went hard a month ago and right now is when the $50,000 payment would go hard,” the engineer says.

Schumacher says LCOR has repeatedly tried to add or restructure elements of the project that will make it viable. “He has to make the numbers work and make them work with other partners who will join up, based on today’s market,” Schumacher says.

LCOR has also caused controversy at UNC Charlotte on the location of a training program for bank managers and executives in the complex. The NC Dance Theater is considering LCOR’s idea to relocate to the theater and studio space now planned for the site.

Infantino concedes LCOR’s goals aren’t easy to achieve. To date, no tenants have been signed for the retail or office space. He points to a recent study that LCOR commissioned from UNC as proof the project will create nearly 6,000 new jobs and pump more than $450 million into Mecklenburg County over the next 15 years.

Because the center city is relatively quiet after hours and on weekends, some experts think the more LCOR adds to the block, the more likely the project will succeed.

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