Charlotte, Lake Norman North Carolina Real Estate News Columnist Doug Smith recently retired.
This is the last column of Doug Smith, many of us of us in Charlotte, in the real estate biz or not, have followed his "Next Big Thing" pieces for years.
Given his time of writing about Charlotte and documenting our growth so to speak, a few parting words from Doug are worth passing on.
Before I go, some last words of advice
With Charlotte's outerbelt still at least four years from completion, people already are talking about an outer-outerbelt.
They should squelch that idea right now.
Urban sprawl and traffic already are choking suburban areas in the path of Interstate 485.
As quickly as a new interchange opens, developers are all over it with plans for shopping centers, business parks and subdivisions.
Perhaps during this downturn, public policymakers will give serious thought to how the city can concentrate more density inside the urban core and integrate new development with mass transit.
It's happening to some extent along the Lynx light rail line in south Charlotte.
Managing growth is the dominant theme that comes to mind as I reflect on my nearly 20 years of covering real estate and development in Charlotte.
I have a few other pieces of advice as I officially enter retirement:
Build truly efficient urban villages. Mixing office, retail and residential on the same site was one of the hot trends before the economy hit the skids. What's not to like about a Birkdale Village or a Phillips Place?
The concept is good, but the execution since Birkdale and Phillips Place has sometimes fallen short. In their zeal to promote mixed use, public officials have allowed strange configurations of residences and businesses that do little to meet the goals of compactness, fewer car trips and less air pollution.
Resist over-speculation. Developers who thought the boom of the past five years would never end will pay the price, possibly losing office buildings, shopping centers and business parks to foreclosure.
Many gambled – as developers always do when they start a project – but failed to anticipate the upheaval brewing in the financial markets.
Local people in the industry will tell you the problem was exacerbated by out-of-towners trying to jump in and make a quick buck. But hometown development firms are feeling the pain, too, as homebuyers hold back and businesses curtail expansion plans.
Don't succumb to the herd mentality. When the first uptown high-rise condo project proved successful, everyone else it seems plunged into the market, saturating the center city with proposals.
Latecomers learned a hard lesson as legal battles, foreclosure and lender backlash stymied several projects and made buyers skittish.
Only one tall condo tower remains under construction and plans for 10 are out of the picture. Experts believe it could be three years before anyone resumes building residential high-rises. Note to developers: Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.
Build apartments in sync with demand. With unemployment up and uncertainty in the workplace, there won't be enough renters to fill the estimated 6,000 apartment units under construction in the Charlotte area.
The market will be cutthroat as developers offer renters lucrative incentives to fill new projects while older complexes struggle to survive.
This is one of the most puzzling things about Charlotte real estate. Apartment developers have never built to match consumer demand. The cycle is always boom and bust.
Will it be this way forever?
Allow me one last word. In this sluggish economy, elected officials will be eager to get residential and commercial projects started again. Be careful. People will be tempted to make expedient decisions they might regret later.
Now is the time to respond to citizen complaints about unbridled growth. Policymakers should give priority to development that fills gaps in existing neighborhoods and should discourage more land clearing in the distant suburbs. Stick to the plan, without exception.
My tenure reporting on the phenomenal growth of my hometown has been fascinating indeed.
When I began in 1990, construction was just beginning on the 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center.
The first leg of I-485 had been started in south Mecklenburg, but Ballantyne still hadn't been announced.
There were no mixed-use urban villages or uptown residential towers. No Northlake, Concord Mills or Carolina Place malls.
Charlotte's population was 395,934 compared with an estimated 716,874 today.
I can only wonder from the sidelines what the next 20 years will bring.
Thanks Doug enjoy your retirement!