Tuesday, February 27

Uptown Charlotte Epicentre entertainment site up for auction

The Epicentre was once uptown Charlotte’s hottest spot for nightlife and entertainment. But on Thursday, in the wake of defaulting on a major loan and foreclosure proceedings, it will be sold at auction in the county courthouse.

That marks quite a humbling turn for the 14-year-old site that had once hosted high-profile events like Democratic National Convention parties and NBA All-Star Game celebrations. The public auction for the 302,324-square-foot mixed-use complex is at 10 a.m. on the first floor of Mecklenburg County Courthouse at 832 E. 4th St.

Last June, Epicentre fell into receivership after defaulting on its $85 million loan with lender Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Property foreclosure proceedings started in March.

The three-story, one-block center at 201 E. Trade St. with retail, restaurants and entertainment venues will be sold “as is,” to the highest bidder for cash, according to court documents.

Following the auction, there is a 10-day period to accept “upset bids,” according to the deputy clerk’s office at Mecklenburg County Superior Court. Any upset bids also have a 10-day window.

With space for 50 tenants, Epicentre is 70% vacant as of March 31, receiver Sabrina Jones with CBRE Inc. said in her latest report, filed April 21.

[AN ODE TO THE EPICENTRE: Back when it brought the ‘wow’ factor to Charlotte]

Out-of-town visitors like Josh and Kasey Wood of Alabama told the Observer in January that they chose to stay at AC Hotel by Marriott Charlotte City Center because of what they saw on the Epicentre’s website. With plenty of restaurants and entertainment spots to choose from, the Woods thought they wouldn’t have to drive out of uptown during their weekend stay.

“But you can’t really stay here,” Kasey Wood said. “We’re disappointed.”

The AC Hotel, though connected to Epicentre, was developed separately from the complex and is not part of the foreclosure sale.

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A public auction for the 302,324-square-foot Epicentre at 201 E. Trade St. in Charlotte is May 12 ​at Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Catherine Muccigrosso cmuccigrosso@charlotteobserver.com

‘Filling a giant gap in entertainment’

When Epicentre opened in 2008, Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, predicted it would “buoy the entire hospitality industry.”

Epicentre, at the former convention center site at College and Trade streets, featured a movie theater, bowling, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.

The complex was part of the city’s redevelopment plan and was the focal point for CIAA parties, the DNC and NBA All-Star Game events. Whisky River, owned by NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the first bar at Epicentre. People often waited over an hour in long lines to get into businesses there.

“When the Epicentre opened it was filling a giant gap in entertainment and hospitality,” Smith said Tuesday.

Since then, the number of hotel rooms in uptown has doubled and there are more destination spots in and around uptown, Smith said.

Epicentre, Smith said, served as the catalyst to propel the city’s hospitality industry.

But in its next phase, he expects the Epicentre site will play more of a complementary role. “This site is super important because of the way it sits at the heart of uptown,” Smith said.

Epicentre’s fall

But Epicentre has had troubles from the start, with court cases and a bankruptcy despite being a popular nightlife destination.

CIM Group, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that bought Epicentre in 2014 for $130.5 million, previously told the Observer that the pandemic had an “outsized” economic impact on the complex.

Epicentre’s online business directory on Tuesday lists 18 retail and service businesses, including Bowlero bowling entertainment center, CVS, Epic Times jewelry, Fuji Hibachi and Teriyaki Grill, Insomnia Cookies, Mortimer’s Cafe & Pub, Red Eye Diner, Tailored Smoke and World of Beer.

But even before the pandemic, Epicentre was slipping. Police reported 54 violent crimes at Epicentre from 2017 to 2019 — the highest number for any business in the city during that time, a Charlotte Observer analysis found.

In 2019, there were several high-profile crimes at the site, including a stabbing at a nightclub and two shooting deaths.

The second-floor dine-in movie theater Studio Movie Grill permanently closed just before the pandemic on March 2, 2020, citing “an unusual amount of operational challenges.”

But Smith remains optimistic.

He said Epicentre is well named for the way it’s interconnected to three nearby hotels, Spectrum Center, the Government Center, transit center, Blue Line and rail trail. He expects the Epicentre site will continue to be an “extreme mixed-use development” that could also include offices and residential, too.

“I think every piece is on the table,” Smith said. Real estate responds to consumer demands, he said, “and the beauty of the center city is that it is always evolving.”

This story was originally published May 11, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Catherine Muccigrosso is the retail business reporter for The Charlotte Observer. An award-winning journalist, she has worked for multiple newspapers and McClatchy for more than a decade.

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