ON THE LEVEL: Charles Lindsey McAlpine: His Name Is Affixed To Many Development Projects – Including A Sewage Treatment Plant
The Mecklenburg Times - Sept. 16, 2014 - Charles Lindsey McAlpine knew from a young age that he wanted to be a real estate developer, starting his first brokerage while still a student at UNC Charlotte in the late 1980s. His companies and projects have since evolved from simple brokerage, and in 2003, he partnered with Shane Seagle to form McAlpine Seagle Development Cos. In 2007 they established Southern Apartment Group, which is currently partnering with Crescent Communities on the upscale Crescent Dilworth near midtown and Inland American Communities Group on a student apartment building, University House BLVD, near UNC Charlotte. They are also involved in apartment developments at Mountain Island Lake, NoDa, Antiquity in Cornelius and near Ballantyne, and a multifamily, office and retail development in Durham. Last fall, they moved their office to the 85-year-old Grinnell Water Works Building on West Morehead Street, which was built for sprinkler system pioneer Frederick Grinnell’s operations and has been repurposed as loft-like office and special event space.
In what little spare time he has, McAlpine, 46, lives at Lake Norman, off-road motorcycles, and swims. He says he even swam for one semester in college and thought he was pretty good, until he “realized that some people are just genetically gifted, with their webbed feet and their 8-foot-tall frames.”
We met at Little Sugar Creek Greenway, across from Carolinas Medical Center and next to the construction at Crescent Dilworth, a prime location near shopping, the greenway, the hospital and uptown. By spring, it will be home to 296 units and 2,200 square feet of retail. The development will include a city bicycle sharing station, a 3,500-square-foot athletic center, an outdoor yoga terrace, and apartments ranging in monthly rent from $1,000 to $3,500 penthouses with walnut flooring, marble bathrooms, custom closets, and 215-square-foot terraces with indoor/outdoor fireplaces.
The interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Winston-Salem, but my family is from Charlotte, my father was with the airlines. We have lots of family around here. Have you heard of McAlpine Creek? We don’t get any payment off of that. I always tell people, ‘There’s no honor greater than having what is, I think, the largest sewage treatment plant in North Carolina named after you.’ (Editor’s note: At a maximum capacity of 64 million gallons a day, Mecklenburg County’s McAlpine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Pineville does appear to be the state’s biggest.) I can’t tell you exactly how I’m related, but I think it goes back generations ago from when my family had farmland out there.
Your website says you created a company at age 19. What kind of company was it?
It was a real estate brokerage I created between my junior and senior year of college at UNC Charlotte. And I’ve been here, on and off, ever since. Charlotte was just starting on its growth curve. I met a lot of prominent developers and mentors who took me under their wing and helped me, like John Crosland Jr., Martin Waters Jr., and Hayden McMahan. Since then, I’ve continued to learn from mentors like Gene Johnson and (Thomas) Tad Dickson, formerly of Harris Teeter. I used to be the young one and they took me under their wing, for whatever reason. I guess I was ready to take on the world. I was anxious to be involved in the commerce of the world.
I saw that you have quite an interesting educational background, London School of Economics, Sophia University in Tokyo…
I had a scholarship as an undergrad to London before I graduated. Then another scholarship to Tokyo. I had already started my company, and was gaining some traction. I considered international law for a while in Tokyo and thought at the time that that sounded more prestigious, but I think I made the right choice. Traveling is better when it’s done for fun than for business.
Where did your business go from there?
I started out as a broker between a landowner, like a farmer, and a would-be buyer. After a couple of years, I started asking the buyers: If I gave up my commission, could I be a partner? And some did. This was around 1990. I was determined to become a developer. For my personality type and whatever skill set I had, it fit me like a glove. Then I found that I could lead the creation of what the of the properties would become and find equity partners. So eight or 10 years in, we became the lead developer on the property. Between 1998 and 2008, we were one of the largest master-planned lot developers in the Carolinas.
I looked at the Secretary of State’s website, and saw that you were the registered agent for quite a few limited liability companies.
With different properties, you have different lenders, investors, contractors and patners. By creating an LLC for each project, these various partners don’t have to take on the risk of the whole company. It’s like starting a new company for every project. And you can say, ‘On this project from start to finish, this was the performance of this project.’
How did you make it through the recession?
There are very few of us around from 10 or 15 years ago. We’ve branded over the past few years with the introduction of Southern Apartment Group and CitiSculpt. We’re happy to have made it through. From 2008 to 2011, we went from 26 employees to four. It was done intentionally and painfully. We knew we needed to trim the overhead of the company. We’re a lot stronger for going through that at that time. We did some bankruptcy court work outs, helping others. An attorney or lender would say, ‘Hey, can you go out and see what’s going on with this project?’ It’s a little like being an undertaker. No matter how well you do your job, it’s painful. Apartments were the first green shoot out of the downturn, so that’s where we went.
What is your role in the Crescent Dilworth development?
We have personal relationships with 15 business owners who had properties on this block, so we assembled the land. We worked through the zoning, design and the financing process. It’s a partnership that fit. We’re generally the originator of the project. We put the pieces together. Uniquely, we’ve got banks and private partners, where we can go in and buy properties and hold them until we decide it’s the right time to start the development. We also do office, retail, build-to-suit medical, and mixed use. A lot of people in the business now are specialists. I think knowing about these various product types is one of the primary things that makes us unique, and that’s under CitiSculpt.
I saw that on your website. What is CitiSculpt?
CitiSculpt is our umbrella parent company, and then we have Southern Apartment Group, as well as other projects with different names. We chose the CitiSculpt name because we like to be involved in urban sites. Currently we are working on projects in Durham, Boone, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Asheville.
Where do you think your company will go from here, and do you think apartments are being overbuilt?
I think there’s been a real shift and the generation coming now is very good at sharing things, cars, office space, computers. They’re very comfortable renting, because they want the flexibility to be able to move for different jobs. In the early 2000s, it was so easy to buy. There was not much rental being built. So we went through a dry spell. So there was a pentup demand for Class A apartments as well as a new generation looking for apartments. I think it will be vibrant for some years to come. In 2015 we may have a little bit of lag, but it will smooth out after that.
There’s also a gap (in apartments for) people between 30 and 50 that’s not being satisfied. The mature renter doesn’t want to live next to a 20-something or have it be like a nightclub at the pool every night. And those are the people who still feel the sting of the downturn. We have to educate lenders and investors that there’s an opportunity for product outside the millennials. At some point, that bucket is full.
What do you like best about what you do?
I guess everybody has part of their career that they like and a part that they do just because it’s work. I look around here, and there were ugly old office buildings here. We get to create the vision of what’s happening here. We get to create the vision of what’s happening here. It’s like a big symphony. We get to help write the symphony, and our experts (partners, lenders, investors, contractors, tradesmen, municipal partners, management) perform all their roles that make a great new place to live and enjoy. I never get tired of watching the projects get finished.