Charlotte’s skyline is getting another skyscraper: Ally Financial has leased the majority of a new office tower planned at Stonewall and Tryon streets, adding to a major wave of new construction on uptown’s southern edge.
Developer Crescent Communities said construction on the 26-story building, at the former site of a Goodyear auto shop, is set to start in the first quarter of 2018. Ally plans to move in when construction is finished in 2021, along with shops, restaurants and a planned hotel.
At 378 feet tall, the building would be the 17th tallest in uptown, just behind the Charlotte Plaza office tower (Bank of America's headquarters tower is the tallest, at 871 feet).
In an interview Tuesday, Ally CEO Jeffrey Brown said the move will consolidate the financial services firm’s Charlotte-area employees into one location. Currently, those employees are spread across sites in Ballantyne and SouthPark, as well as a tower where Ally leases space a few blocks away on South Church Street
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“Running the company, at least the Charlotte division, out of multiple locations didn’t make a lot of long-term sense,” Brown said. “For us it was really a chance to create an environment that really promoted collaboration amongst one another, really focused on our culture.”
Detroit-based Ally, which employs about 1,700 in the Charlotte region, has leased 400,000 square feet at the new tower, just over half of the building’s 742,000 square-foot total. The new building will be called Ally Charlotte Center.
The development is on a site Crescent has long targeted. The Charlotte-based developer first unveiled a master plan for the site, then called Tryon Place, in 2014. Since then, it’s been a source of speculation in the real estate community, as Stonewall Street booms along the whole length of uptown.
“It’s been worth the wait,” said Brian Leary, president of Crescent’s commercial and mixed-use business. “We really see the Stonewall corridor. ...as a real gateway for uptown and South End.”
The plan includes a 20,000-square-foot public plaza and 30,000 square feet of shops and retail. Leary said Crescent has been in talks with various chefs and restaurant operators.
“Now that we can give some definitive dates,” Leary said, “they can firm up their plans.”
The building will also include about 1,400 parking spaces. The interior of the tower will have 10-foot ceilings, large glass windows and the open floorplans favored by employers. Leary said the modern design, coupled with an emphasis on natural light, food and drink options, and nearby transit at the Stonewall Station light rail stop, will attract and retain tenants.
Also included: A 300-room hotel, visible in the left side of the company’s rendering, along Stonewall Street. Leary said they’re not ready to announce the hotel’s operator yet, but a national brand will develop and run the property.
About 1,000 people a day cross the bridge between uptown and South End over Interstate 277, Leary said, adding that their plan will emphasize connections to the street. All the shops and restaurants will have direct access to the street or plaza, and the office building will have more ground floor retail space instead of a “ceremonial or museum-like” lobby, Leary said.
The project being developed by Lincoln Harris and Goldman Sachs at the former Charlotte Observer site at Stonewall and Tryon streets now has a name: Legacy Union.
Chase Monroe and Chris Schaaf, of brokerage firm JLL, represented Ally, while Charley Leavitt and Barry Fabyan, of JLL, represented Crescent in the leasing transaction.
Wednesday’s announcement means Ally’s name, in large purple letters, could come off the uptown building it has occupied since January 2010, according to Alison Summerville, business administration executive for Ally. The firm, the largest tenant in the building, will lose the naming rights to the building when its primary lease expires in 2021, she said.
Stonewall is booming
Stonewall Street is arguably the busiest stretch of development in all of booming Charlotte, with a half-dozen major projects reshaping the busy road.
Adjacent to the site, at Stonewall and College streets, Charlotte-based Asana Partners bought a three-story, historic building occupied by the James McElroy & Diehl law firm for $6.4 million. The company expects to renovate the building and will likely include retail, though plans haven’t been finalized.
Across the street from the new Ally tower, another bank office building is under construction. Bank of America has leased 500,000 square feet at the former site of the Observer building, where Lincoln Harris and Goldman Sachs are developing a 33-story tower that’s set for completion in 2019. It’s the first phase of a major new development called Legacy Union that could total up to 5 million square feet and include shops, restaurants, a hotel, apartments and more office space.
A block down Stonewall Street, the new 615 South College office tower is open, with Regions Bank as an anchor tenant. On the other side of the Blue Line light rail tracks, Crescent is developing a project (Novel Stonewall Station) with two hotels, 450 apartment units and a Whole Foods opening next year.
Across the street from that, on the corner of Stonewall and Caldwell streets, Northwood Ravin is building a 20-story tower and 421 new apartments. On the site of the former Actor’s Theatre, Proffitt Dixon is developing a 302-unit apartment building called Montage, while on the north side of Stonewall Street, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Association is gearing up for a $110 million overhaul of the Charlotte Convention Center.
Ally has had a presence in Charlotte for much of the past decade.
It started out as General Motors Acceptance Corp., the financing arm of General Motors. In 2006, GM spun off GMAC, which four years later changed its name to Ally Financial, the parent of online-only Ally Bank.
Former GMAC chief executive Al de Molina, previously a chief financial officer for Bank of America, expanded the company’s presence in Charlotte.
Since then, Ally has continued to add employees in the Charlotte region, which is one of the firm’s corporate centers, along with Detroit and New York. Ally said its 1,700 Charlotte-area employees, which includes contractors and vendors, makes the region the firm’s largest hub ahead of Detroit’s roughly 1,500 and New York’s 200.
Growth in Charlotte has come through shifting high-ranking roles here. According to the company nine of its 16 highest-ranking executives are based in Charlotte, including CEO Brown.
But the company’s Charlotte growth has come in other ways. Last year it acquired Florida online broker TradeKing Group, a move Ally said would add about 100 people to its Charlotte-area workforce.
Brown, 44, was promoted to CEO in 2015, to succeed the company’s retiring chief executive Michael Carpenter.
Under Brown, a former Bank of America treasurer, Ally last year consolidated employees, contractors and vendors into a new Michigan headquarters in downtown Detroit. In addition to improved employee collaboration and other benefits, the Detroit move was “a better solution” financially, Brown said, adding that in Charlotte, “we’re achieving all those same objectives.”
“It really was a chance to sort of take what we’ve learned in Detroit, and see what a powerful impact that was to our employee base, and kind of replicate something similar here in Charlotte,” he said.