From the aerial point of view of an osprey cruising one of Lake Norman's many coves for a possible nesting spot, the torn-up earth near Mooresville's Exit 31 looks far from hospitable.
Acres of exposed red clay are dotted with pieces of massive earth-moving equipment, and concrete and steel structures have punched up from the dirt like skeletal fingers uncovered in an archeological dig.
Inhospitable, indeed. For an osprey.
But to Steve Welly, it looks like the beginnings of mixed-used heaven on earth — Langtree at the Lake.
"We've been developing property for more than 35 years and, frankly, felt this was one of the best sites we've seen," says Welly, president of Ohio-based RLWest Properties, the majority owner of Langtree.
But the path to this point — with vertical construction under way and financing secured to keep hammers swinging — hasn't been an easy one.
The highly touted plan for a massive, upscale, mixed-use development dates back about six years to when it was given the go-ahead by Mooresville officials. On paper, the project's original developers, Mooresville's Rick and Brad Howard, plotted out 400 acres replete with hundreds of luxury apartments as well as building after building that would be home to high-end local and national retail, office and commercial use. There would even be Lake Norman's first waterfront resort hotel and marina.
On paper it would stay, however, once 2008 and its tanking economy washed up on shore and washed out the availability of development dollars to make it all happen. After repeated groundbreaking ceremonies where no ground was actually broken, skepticism about Langtree's future was working through the region's business circles, and the sheen was beginning to wear off the once-golden project.
Something shiny must have remained, though. Shiny enough to catch a developer's eye in far-away Ohio.
Welly says it was not long after that recessionary tide rolled in when RLWest began eyeing the troubled project. As a company that has developed the likes of shopping centers and industrial parks for about 30 years, Langtree was a new type of venture for the company, but a venture Welly says was ripe for the picking.
"This is our first foray into vertical mixed-use," he says, "and Langtree has all the components to be a very successful project."
After a good deal of back-and-forth negotiations, early in 2011 RLWest acquired 75 percent of the project by paying off the existing bank debt. The Howards remain as minority owners, but Welly says they have no decision-making authority as Langtree moves forward.
In addition to making good with the bank, RLWest provided the equity required to submit a request for HUD funds to get things moving vertically. That's precisely what's happening now, with the first structure a two-story building that will house the developer's offices on the top floor above an organic-themed convenience store. Welly says occupancy for that building is planned for spring next year.