The Epicenter was once the hottest spot for nightlife and entertainment in uptown Charlotte. But on Thursday, in the wake of a large loan default and foreclosure proceedings, it will be auctioned off in district court.
That’s quite a humbling turn of events for the 14-year-old site, which 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 will be held at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse at 832 E. 4th st
Last June, Epicenter filed for bankruptcy after defaulting on its $85 million loan from lender Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Property foreclosure proceedings began in March.
The three-story, one-block center at 201 E. Trade St., featuring retail, dining and entertainment venues, will be sold “as is” to the highest bidder for cash, according to court documents.
After the auction, there is a 10-day period for accepting “crooked bids”, according to the deputy office at the OLG Mecklenburg. All angry bids also have a 10-day window.
With room for 50 tenants, the Epicenter is 70% vacant as of March 31, bankruptcy trustee Sabrina Jones of CBRE Inc. said in her latest report filed April 21.
Out-of-town visitors like Josh and Kasey Wood of Alabama told the Observer in January that they chose the AC Hotel by Marriott Charlotte City Center based on what they saw on the Epicentre’s website. With a wide variety of dining and entertainment options to choose from, the Woods figured they didn’t have to drive from Uptown during their weekend getaway.
“But you can’t really stay here,” Kasey Wood said. “We are disappointed.”
The AC Hotel, although associated with Epicentre, was developed separately from the complex and is not part of the foreclosure.
“Bridging a Huge Gap in Entertainment”
When the epicenter opened in 2008Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, predicted it would “boost the entire hospitality industry.”
Epicentre, on the site of the former convention center 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, DNC and NBA All-Star Game events. Whiskey River, owned by NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the first bar at the Epicentre. People often waited in long lines for over an hour to get into the shops there.
“When the Epicenter opened, it filled a huge void in entertainment and hospitality,” Smith said Tuesday.
Since then, the number of hotel rooms in Uptown has doubled and there are more destinations in and around Uptown, Smith said.
Epicentre, Smith said, served as a catalyst to propel the city’s hospitality industry forward.
But in the next phase, he expects the Epicenter site to play more of a complementary role. “This location is extremely important given its location in the heart of Uptown,” said Smith.
The fall of the epicenter
But Epicenter has had problems with lawsuits and bankruptcy from the start, despite being a popular nightlife destination.
CIM Group, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that bought Epicenter for $130.5 million in 2014, previously told the Observer that the pandemic has had an “outsized” economic impact on the complex.
Epicentre’s online business directory Tuesday lists 18 retail and service companies, 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, Epicenter was slipping. Police reported 54 violent crimes in the epicenter from 2017 to 2019 — the highest number for any business in the city during that time, according to a Charlotte Observer analysis.
There were several high-profile crimes at the scene in 2019, including a stabbing at a nightclub and two deaths by shooting.
The second-floor dine-in cinema, Studio Movie Grill, was permanently closed just before the pandemic on March 2, 2020, citing “an unusual amount of operational challenges.”
But Smith remains optimistic.
He said Epicenter is named for the way it is connected to three nearby hotels. Spectrum Center, Government Center, Transit Center, Blue Line and Rail Trail. He anticipates that the Epicenter site will continue to have an “extreme mixed-use development” which could also include offices and housing.
“I think every piece is on the table,” Smith said. RReal estate is responsive to consumer demand, he said, “and the beauty of downtown is that it’s constantly evolving.”