$35M Coliseum Crossing Replacing Notorious Charlotte Eyesore
One of Charlotte's most decrepit centers is getting a makeover. Bitterlin Development Corp. President Chris Bitterlin is razing the old Coliseum Center and building the $35M Coliseum Crossing, a mixed-use project that could be the start of a larger renaissance in the area.
Bitterlin often drove by the Coliseum Center on Independence Boulevard and, like so many others, noticed how depressed the old shopping center looked. Built in 1964, the Coliseum Center, just east of Uptown Charlotte, had once been a thriving shopping destination, anchored by a Kmart and about a dozen other retailers. But a protracted road construction project that turned Independence Boulevard into an expressway choked off access to the shopping center for more than a decade. As customers dwindled, retailers closed and the center deteriorated, angering local residents.
By the time the Independence Boulevard construction project wrapped up last fall, widening the expressway and converting two intersections into interchanges, the shopping center was deserted except for Earth Angel, a lingerie shop.
Bitterlin, through his partnership Manchester NC Coliseum, purchased the Coliseum Center in late 2014 for almost $5.8M. Now he is focusing on redeveloping the site, where demolition is underway.
“I can’t wait for all those ugly buildings to come down so people don’t have to look at that garbage anymore,” he said.
Bitterlin had previously been in discussion with Topgolf about opening a location at the center, a deal that fell through in 2015. (The company ended up opening a complex in south Charlotte this summer.)
Charlotte-based Sonic Automotive signed the first lease in the project — it plans to open one of its EchoPark used car dealerships on about 10 acres of the 18.3-acre site by the end of 2018, Sonic Executive Vice President Jeff Dyke said.
“There’s a lot of developers cleaning up that area and it seems like a good for fit for us. Looking down the road a couple of years, I think you’re going to see that whole corridor revived, and we want to be a part of that,” Dyke said.
The area has some strong fundamentals: Approximately 70,000 vehicles drive along this stretch of highway per day, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
This is not Bitterlin’s first time buying a distressed property. Before moving to the Charlotte area in 2005, he was a San Diego commercial property developer and investor for about 30 years. He spearheaded several high-profile projects, including building the 20,500-seat Coors Amphitheatre (now Mattress Firm Amphitheatre) and water park in a dormant, 120-acre Chula Vista industrial park.
“I’ve done several projects in difficult areas, some very similar to Coliseum Crossing,” he said.
Coliseum Crossing’s remaining eight acres could include 60K SF of retail space, but The Nichols Co.'s Josh Beaver, who is leasing the space, said the team is keeping its options open.
“It’s a pliable site plan right now,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone. We could easily lease the space to the usual discount retailers, but we’re more interested in a higher-grade tenant mix. It’s been an eyesore for a long time, and we want to make a fresh new start.”
East Charlotte residents like Tracy Thomas are anxiously watching how Coliseum Crossing takes shape. Born and raised not far from the shopping center, Thomas is the founder of Save the East Side, a grassroots group working to help improve what she said is a long-neglected area of Charlotte.
“I’d love to see coffee shops, restaurants or a Trader Joe's, not just pawn shops and other low-rent businesses that have dominated east Charlotte for so long,” she said. “I just hope we can keep moving forward and capitalize on the new development. I’m so ready for that ugly old center to be gone and something new to come in.”