Charles Pointe To Alter Economic Landscape

The Exponent Telegram

by Nora Edinger, REGIONAL EDITOR

Bridgeport (Sunday, September 28, 2003)

The developers of Charles Pointe hope that planned community will serve as an economic catalyst for the region.

They see the $750 million project as a national-attention draw. They say the lure is its heady mix of 2,000 acres, development-ready pads, a location along a major Eastern interstate, proximity to major government entities and state development perks.

Jack Norris, who is seeking tenants for Charles Pointe's retail and office spaces, said a hotel/conference center and a handful of retail and office sites will begin the parade with a spring construction start. Norris is chairman and chief executive officer of CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh, a subsidiary of the world's largest commercial real estate firm.

Looking ahead to other tenancies, Norris said every prospect involves an expansion of the local employment base. While he did not specify what businesses are coming first, he did say the retail entities are intended to serve the residential part of the planned community, not to be "another Eastpointe."

Another member of the development team, James Starman, said the project also is starting to draw attention from national-level financiers.

"We have a lot of interest out there for the first phase," Starman said of the mix of retail, office and residential space planned for the north-east corner of the Interstate 79/W.Va. 279 intersection.

That kind of new money flowing into the region could spell good things for lots of business people, he suggested. Starman is managing director of L.J. Melody & Co./Pittsburgh, CB Richard Ellis Co.'s real-estate financing subsidiary.

Norris said the state's new tax increment financing program (TIF), which Charles Pointe is pursuing, will also help draw companies into the state. TIF allows developments to reduce their property tax load and to defer tax payments for up to 30 years.

He said TIF, which is used by nearly every U.S. state, is even more important to sparking long-term development than a $6 million state Economic Development Grant the city of Bridgeport has been awarded to help launch the Charles Pointe hotel/conference center but has not received.

The delay is from a lottery-related legal challenge to a $215 million statewide program. The grants are intended to be financed by income from video gambling.

Starman has said Charles Pointe will use bank loans to start the project regardless of the grant's status.

Jamie Corton, managing partner of overall developer Genesis Partners, said he also wants Charles Pointe to be a model of economic flexibility as it is built out over a 10-20 year period.

"It's got to be dynamic and flexible enough that when you see an opportunity ... you are saying, 'Go, marketer, go get that,'" Corton said.

Corton and the family of the late coal entrepreneur Charles "Jim" Compton unveiled the project in late 2000. He said last week they already have between $7.5 million and $10 million invested in its success.

"When we originally (announced) this, it was very early," Corton said. "Now we're moving in."

In addition to the retail/business component, Charles Pointe is intended to include 1,400 housing units (half of them multi-family), a golf course, other recreational areas and space for civic/recreation developments that could include a school.