Charlotte Epicentre: From hot spot to possible foreclosure

Epicentre, the retail and entertainment center facing a potential foreclosure over a delinquent debt, has played a prominent role in uptown during its 13-year history.

The three-story center on the old convention center site in center city was considered a key to uptown’s redevelopment. Epicentre featured a movie theater, bowling, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.

But the coronavirus pandemic hit the site hard, with many tenants permanently closed. The Epicentre’s owner is facing foreclosure for missed debt payments, according to a lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County Court.

Epicentre’s start was embroiled in court cases and a bankruptcy early on, even as the venue thrived by drawing crowds like CIAA parties and the Democratic National Convention and NBA All-Star Game events, becoming a popular nightlife destination in the city.

Here’s a timeline of some highlights of Epicentre’s history from Charlotte Observer archives:

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People in the crowd dance to music at a Bud Light Super Bowl Pep Rally at the Epicentre in February 2016. The Panthers played Denver and lost the game that year 24-10. Observer file photo

2008: A grand opening

Epicentre opened in 2008 on a city block at College and Trade streets. It was viewed by city officials as an important part of uptown’s redevelopment.

Epicentre’s first bar, Whisky River, was owned by NASCAR driver and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. As more businesses opened, there typically were long lines to get in, with some waiting more than an hour.

When it opened, Michael Smith, president of Charlotte Center City Partners, predicted that the Epicentre “will in the long run buoy the entire hospitality industry.”

2010: Bankruptcy

The Epicentre project was mired in court battles after its original lender, Regions Bank, started foreclosure proceedings in July 2010 after a $94 million construction loan came due. The two limited liability companies that owned the complex — Pacific Avenue and Pacific Avenue II — filed for bankruptcy protection, stalling the foreclosure.

Charlotte-based Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management, working through an affiliate group called Blue Air 2010, bought the complex’s $94 million note in November 2010.

But a year later, Blue Air sued the developers, accusing them of wrongfully diverting money from the entertainment complex before it filed for bankruptcy protection.

Allegations also included claims of self-dealing, falsified bookkeeping and making numerous false statements in court, claims that the developers had denied. A federal judge ordered original developer Afshin Ghazi to sign documents giving up all of his ownership interests in the complex.

2012: Leaving bankruptcy

Epicentre emerged from bankruptcy with new owner Blue Air 2010. The developers who conceived of the mixed-use project, Afshin Ghazi and George Cornelson III, no longer were connected to the project. The developers made a deal with Blue Air, agreeing to each pay $1.5 million, used to pay creditors, and gave up ownership in the EpiCentre.

2012: The DNC spotlight

When Charlotte landed the Democratic National Convention, the Epicentre was the scene of many hot tickets, parties, shows and other events surrounding the early September gathering.

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MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program filmed at BlackFinn Saloon at the EpiCentre during the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Adam Bell [email protected]

The Epicentre also had undergone millions of dollars worth of renovations before the DNC came to town. At the Epicentre, CNN and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” set up shop, and a “CNN Grill” took over the site of a former Mexican cantina.

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The CNN Grill took over the former Mexican cantina at Epicentre during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Other news outlets set up at the retail complex, too, including MSNBC. Adam Bell [email protected]

Newt Gingrich, then a Republican presidential candidate, also swung by the the center that year during his campaign tour to stop at Enso Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar.

2013: Hornets announcement

NBA Commissioner David Stern in July 2013 said the Bobcats would become the Hornets again before the 2014-15 season. Thousands gathered at the Epicentre, where the announcement was broadcast with an all-day celebration of Charlotte basketball’s history and future.

Buzz City cheerleaders toss out Buzz City T-shirts to the crowd during the Buzz City Celebration at the Epicentre in 2013 during a celebration for the return of the Hornets to Charlotte. Observer file photo

2014: For sale sign

Blue Air investment group put the 305,000-square-foot complex up for sale after $23 million in renovations at the five-building complex. At the time, it was 94{028e8b43b440f88d50a94b0ac799d5b93a220d942414697744f001bd74eb64d0} leased with 70{028e8b43b440f88d50a94b0ac799d5b93a220d942414697744f001bd74eb64d0} of its rental revenue from 16 restaurants.

California-based real estate group CIM Group bought the property for $130.5 million.

2016: Celebrations and concerts

Epicentre brought out crowds for parties like the Bud Light Super Bowl Pep Rally and Alive After Five, a free, weekly concert series, in 2016. The Panthers had made the Super Bowl that year, but fell to Denver 24-10.

2019: NBA All-Star Game festivities

The Epicentre was billed as the “premiere fan destination” during the NBA All-Star Game Weekend in February. The game was played at the nearby Spectrum Center.

The Epicentre featured games, parties, player appearances, panel discussions and other events for three days.

Fans crowded the Epicentre for events around All-Star Weekend in Charlotte on Saturday, February 16, 2019. Joshua Komer The Charlotte Observer

2019: High-profile crimes

In April 2019, a person was stabbed at SUITE Nightclub, and an argument at an Epicentre restaurant continued onto College Street, where one man was shot.

That October, John Holaday was shot walking by the Epicentre. Police said he may have been hit by a bullet that was fired inside the dining and entertainment complex.

In November 2019, as many Epicentre businesses closed for the night, two people were shot, one fatally by police after a call about “shots fired” at the center.

From 2017 to 2019, police reported 54 violent crimes at the Epicentre — the highest number for any business in the city over that period, a Charlotte Observer analysis found.

2020-2021: Pandemic closings, possible foreclosure

Even before North Carolina businesses were ordered to close in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Epicentre lost its second floor dine-in movie theater. Studio Movie Grill closed the location on March 2 citing “an unusual amount of operational challenges.”

Catherine Muccigrosso [email protected]

A laundry list of businesses haven’t reopened, from Whisky River to Tin Roof, Blackfinn Ameripub and Vida Cantina.

And just last week, Deutsche Bank Trust Co. filed a lawsuit in Mecklenburg County Court seeking to appoint a receiver and special procedure to foreclose on the property after Epicentre’s owner failed to make several payments on its $85 million loan.

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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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