CHARLOTTE-As the uptown office market registers from tight to tighter, developers, local and otherwise, are putting their cards on the table in a high-stakes gamble that will rout the losers and reward the winners.

The largest building currently under construction in uptown Charlotte is the 46-story Hearst Tower on North Tryon Street. Although the building won’t be completed until sometime in 2002, it is 95% leased.

Has this been a harbinger of things to come? It might appear to be, judging from the new office construction activity expected to be completed over the next couple of years, according to industry sources.

As Pennsylvania-based developer LCOR struggles to finesse the financing to buy and redevelop the old convention center site, which would include a 30-story office building, local developer Lincoln Harris has disclosed plans to develop a 39-story, 550,000-sf office building right across the street.

Big and fractious mixed-use projects like the LCOR proposal are difficult to finance and often scare away lenders who prefer more traditional single-use projects such as office buildings or shopping centers, brokers say.

Although the city is currently squeezed for office space, some industry watchers think Charlotte developers could get ahead of demand if they aren’t cautious. A report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. calls Charlotte one of 13 cities in the country that is at risk for overbuilding.

Local developers, however, think the FDIC is basically sending a message to lenders and does not have the proper perspective on new construction time frames.

Over the next several years, of all the projects in the works, industry observers say it is most likely that the Lincoln Harris tower will hit the market first. Lincoln Harris president Johnny Harris is said to have all the financial and political clout to get the ball rolling, with or without an anchor tenant. The company is also willing to name the building for a major corporate relocation tenant if they lease a large block of space.

The current uptown vacancy rate for class A space is 1.7%. The overall vacancy rate is 3.4%. Any number less than 5% is considered full occupancy.

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