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Deals not so done when it comes to the Brooklyn Village project
Political winds shift timetable for development
Published Wednesday, October 2, 2019 1:00 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Artist rendering of Brooklyn Village, a 17-acre development of 1,243 residential units, including 107 affordable housing apartments, two hotels and 252,100 square feet of retail space and 680,700 square feet for offices.

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A deal is a deal, unless it involves Brooklyn Village.

Don Peebles understood making Brooklyn Village a reality is a years-long job. The developer of the 17-acre, $700 million project will take shape within two years, although it’s been delayed by political and activist pressure. The latest setback was delivered by Charlotte City Council, which delayed a vote on approving agreements with Charlotte Housing Authority and Mecklenburg County involving the 5.5-acre Marshall Park site.

The 10-year agreement between Mecklenburg and the city lapses in December, which would transfer control back to the city unless council agrees to an extension.

Peebles, owner of the Peebles Corporation, America’s largest black-owned real estate development company, is unfazed.

“It’s a lengthy process because we went out and engaged the community, you’ve got to negotiate documents, so that took almost maybe a year,” he said recently. “The government moves slowly. A project of this size, as a public-private deal, you’ve got to think how few of buildings being built in Charlotte today are on land that was owned by the government – very little. These public-private deals, having to go through all the hearings, community engagement, approval process, then you’ve got commissioners who want to renegotiate, that all slows down the project.”

BK Partners, a collaboration of Conformity Corp. and Peebles Corp., has plans for 1,243 residential units, including 107 affordable housing apartments. Two hotels with 280 rooms combined would also be built along with 252,100 square feet in retail space and 680,700 square feet for offices. The project is expected to transform Second Ward, the onetime home of Charlotte’s preeminent black neighborhood before urban renewal projects in the 1960s.

The Marshall Park snag wouldn’t necessarily undo Brooklyn Village, but would deal a major blow. Under a 10-year deal between Mecklenburg County and Charlotte that exchanged county-owned land next to BB&T BallPark for city-controlled Marshall Park, the Second Ward property reverts to Charlotte in December unless there’s a new deal.

“I think this took a lot of us by surprise,” said Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, an extension proponent. “The biggest question most people had was why 10 years. Presumably, when the discussions took place 10 years ago, they all decided it was a good idea that if nothing happened in 10 years later, it would revert back to the city, and so I’d like to hear more about that.

“Secondly, why would they need 10 more years? Overall, I feel this is their project. We just swapped the land so  we could build Romare Bearden Park, but it’s not inconsequential to just back out that piece of land from the county’s project. We need to understand what that does and why we would do it.”

Another sticking point is the insistence on more emphasis on economic diversity, something Peebles said his company has long committed to.

“From day one, we have been dedicated to economic inclusion for African Americans, both as residents and business opportunities,” Peebles said. “…As a company, we’ve been committed to diversity throughout the history of our firm. We include minority- and women-owned businesses in all levels and aspects of our projects and have historically performed at 25% level across the board and we’ve recently increased that to 35% and recently made that commitment to Mecklenburg County in terms of our goals and expectations of economic inclusion in Charlotte.”

Peebles insists the project, which is expected to take 10 years to complete, will be a boon to black businesses.

“I’m a big believer that economic inclusion, we can address some of these continuing social challenges that our community continues to have,” he said. “As a business owner and a black American first, I feel it’s my responsibility along with all my other peers in the business community to do things to provide a pathway to economic opportunity. We’re a capitalistic democracy and the foundation is based on capital, so we need to be included in that.”

Community activists also want adjustments.

Equitable Communities Charlotte wants concessions for locating Mecklenburg’s black entrepreneurs in Brooklyn Village, as well as expand the proposed Second Ward museum to include the history of black Charlotte.

“What we’re asking builders to do is to build a museum that will house the artifacts of the black neighborhoods of Charlotte – not just Brooklyn Village, but Washington Heights, Enderly Park,” said Mary Kelly, co founder of Equitable Communities CLT. “We want to capture and collect all that history so that it’s a permanent place for people to go visit and learn about the black history of Charlotte that you may not find at the Gantt Center or Levine Museum” of the New South.

Another request, said Peter Kelly, Mary’s husband and co-founder of Equitable Communities CLT, is “make affordable leasing for African American businesses with a phased-in price so they subsidize their rent for a period of time.

“In the original proposal, there was a commitment to small business and a certain percentage of that to be local, but we’re trying to refine that local to local African Americans,” he said.

“Where can we tweak it to make it better without being unrealistic and starting the project all over again? Trying to put the quote-unquote blame on the developer, we believe, is an overstatement. They responded to [a request for proposal] from the city and the county, and they were selected to meet requirements that were put out, so we think it’s unfair to come back and judge on the back side, in particular because this is the first big development in Charlotte with an African American developer.”

Peebles, who said his company portfolio has more than $4 billion in projects over its history, including $1 billion to underutilized businesses, agrees.

“Economic justice doesn’t start and end with just one project,” he said. Are they going to say Brooklyn Village, because it was built in a historically black community that was destroyed and because the developer’s black, we want to demand something that he’s ready to provide? It’s almost like they’re creating a victory for themselves, because I’m already providing it. I’m addressing all the issues they laid out, and more. I’m asking that of everybody.”


All part of Peebles' plan. See the "Peebles Fraud at Brooklyn Village" document.
Posted on October 9, 2019

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