In the Spotlight: Innovation Park

Rarely in the world of commercial real estate does revitalizing an aging property make a big enough splash to reshape an entire market. But Innovation Park is well on the way to doing exactly that inside University Research Park in northeast Charlotte. At 200 acres and 1.9 million square feet, “We thought it was large enough to be a game changer in the whole market,” said Chris Epstein of BECO South, which paid $41.6 million for the former IBM campus in 2010. After the purchase, Innovation Park leased a head-turning 500,000 square feet within 19 months to tenants ranging from Classic Graphics (179,775 square feet) to AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. (140,000 square feet). The first tenant, Classic Graphics, “was validation for us,” Epstein said, “but AXA (announced in March 2012) was the absolute validation.” That’s because the New York-based insurance giant was willing to share BECO’s vision, agreeing to move 26 miles north in May 2013 from a south Charlotte business park where it had operated since 1998. Epstein said the partners in Rockville, Md.-based BECO Management, a specialist in rehabilitating distressed properties, were impressed enough to pay cash after visiting the property for the first time in December 2009. They formed BECO South with Epstein at the helm to renovate buildings, add two decks to boost parking to 6,500 spaces, create tenant amenities and upgrade landscaping and signage. In the process, BECO took a different approach from previous owners of the 30-year-old IBM campus, naming it Innovation Park to embrace the computer icon’s innovative work and investing up front to attract tenants. So far BECO is investing...

Focus On: Environmental Way

The video screen in the lobby is the first hint to visitors that something is very different about Environmental Way in University Research Park. Owner David Bowles can monitor the performance of all the building’s systems on a wall-mounted “dashboard” displaying real time information on everything from indoor temperature to outdoor lighting. The 70,000-square-foot building, vacant for a decade before he bought it in 2009, is a poster child for green rehabilitation and sustainable development. Bowles, a mechanical and electrical contractor, uses his company’s 10,000-square-foot office space at Environmental Way to show potential tenants that going green won’t break the bank. He paid about $2.1 million for the former IBM building at 1000 Louis Rose and spent about $800,000 to rehab and upfit it during 2009 and 2010. His redevelopment team combined the 26-year-old structure’s existing equipment with new and more efficient chillers and boilers, tapped into wind and solar power and relied heavily on reclaimed and recycled materials. A thermal storage system, for example, makes ice in off-peak hours and stores it to circulate and cool the building during peak hours. Vintage wood retrieved from his wife Vickie Pennington’s five-generation homestead in eastern North Carolina went into interior finishes along with tree-bark wallpaper, milk- and clay-based paints and concrete-and-recycled-glass countertops. Used furniture and recycled carpet complete the space. Savings are enhanced by an on-grid rooftop photovoltaic system capable of producing excess electrical power that Bowles can sell back to Duke Energy. The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized Environmental Way by pre-certifying the building’s core and shell as platinum LEED level, its highest and hardest to achieve rating....