The Exponent Telegram
by Nora Edinger, REGIONAL EDITOR
Bridgeport (Wednesday, September 24, 2003)
Tax increment financing available. Check. Nearly 3 million cubic yards of earth moved. Check. W.Va. 279 and key infrastructure in place. Check.
After about five years of working on the "planned" in the $750 million Charles Pointe planned community, developers say they are now ready to begin working on the "community" end. They say it will start with a hotel, a conference center and a handful of retail and office units that will start construction north of W.Va. 279 by this spring.
"The time is right for this project to go," said Jamie Corton, managing partner of Genesis Partners.
In an exclusive interview, Corton said the primarily family-based partnership already has between $7.5 million and $10 million invested in Charles Pointe and is bullish on being able to build the 2,000 acre parcel out in 10 to 20 years.
A cadre of other partners -- including heavy-hitting real estate financiers, land-use planning experts and property marketers -- assembled for the interview agreed that the bricks and mortar phase is set to start. And, they said, the three-year delay between the project's public unveiling and an actual groundbreaking is nothing unusual in spite of what some local skeptics have seen as a sign of a doomed development.
"I've seen a project that has consistent forward motion and a lot of significant benchmarks (that have been reached)," said Jack Norris, chairman and chief executive officer of CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh.
That subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis -- the world's largest commercial real estate firm -- was engaged two years ago to market Charles Pointe to retail and corporate clients.
Norris said Charles Pointe is particularly moving along at an orderly pace for a project of its scope, which he noted is four times as large as the Southpointe planned development in Pittsburgh.
Norris and James Starman -- managing director of L.J. Melody & Co./Pittsburgh, CB Richard Ellis Co.'s real-estate financing subsidiary -- said Charles Pointe is also now strong enough to go whether a $6 million state Economic Development Grant comes through.
Norris said the grant, which is on hold because of a legal challenge to a $215 million statewide program, is actually of less importance than tax increment financing. The latter, which Genesis Partners has pursued through Harrison County, is a recent state initiative that allows developers to reduce their property tax load and to defer tax payments during a set period of time.
Calling the grant a catalyst for faster development, Starman, said banks will start the ball rolling.
"I think it will attract a lot of national attention when we get started with the development of the project," Starman said of drawing in other types of national-level lenders.
Corton said such national-level experts have been key to getting the project through the intensive planning stage. For example, more intense inspection revealed a need to reduce office space and expand residential space from an original 250 units to the 1,400 units that are now planned.
With a substantial family investment already on the line, Corton said he and the family of the late coal entrepreneur Charles "Jim" Compton are excited the building phase is soon to begin.
"We feel it's been a very good investment on the family's part and on all the partners' part," he said.
He said the family's vision of a well-thought-out community also helped him hold steady during a planning period in which he fielded several offers to buy isolated pieces of Charles Pointe.
"It's hard," he said of turning down the early buyers. "But we have a commitment. We know what we're after -- the vision -- and we're not going to do anything less."