Balconies Open Wide Like A Garage
Distinctive Central27 Borrows a Concept Used in Seattle, Colorado

A condo project planned for Plaza-Midwood will take what urban planners call the ambience of the street to a new level.

Garage-like eight-foot-by-eight-foot balcony doors at Central27 will roll up and "pull the energy of the street right into where you live," said Ray "Rip" Farris III of Charlotte's Tuscan Development.

"Like cafes where you can sit out in the street, these condominiums will have interior personality that changes just by rolling up the door," he said.

Tuscan is teaming with MarkPiercePoole Properties, a Charlotte commercial real estate firm on the $4.7 million project, diagonally across Central Avenue from John's Country Kitchen and the Wachovia bank branch.

Farris said he saw roll-up doors used similarly in 1991 in Aspen, Colo.'s Harris Concert Hall, a building he helped plan just after completing his master's in architecture at the University of Colorado.

The building was two-thirds under ground, but the top floor was above ground with doors that rolled up, so people could walk out onto the lawn, he said.

James Dudley, who headed Central27's architectural team at Tobin Design, said their inspiration for the roll-up doors came from a project in Seattle.

The unconventional design has struck a cord with buyers, who reserved 20 of the 27 units before the developers could unveil the project to the public.

The developers plan 24 one-bedroom condos. Twenty-three will range from 550 to 680 square feet and one will be 720 square feet. Three two-bedroom units will each total 1,240 square feet.

The project, to be started in about three months and completed in spring 2006, will be the first multifamily residential development inside the Plaza Central business district.

Urban planners and neighborhood advocates generally have supported such development around Central Avenue between uptown and Morningside Drive.

The Plaza Central business district is at the junction of several close-in neighborhoods: Plaza-Midwood, Commonwealth-Morningside, Belmont, Elizabeth and Chantilly.

John Nichols, president of Plaza Central Partners, a business-oriented neighborhood organization, said he's glad to see condos in the heart of the commercial strip.

"We call it Main Street USA with the post office, the library, the Harris Teeter, the bank - anything you need," he said. "People at Central27 will be able to live, literally, without a car."

City planner Kent Main said the project is consistent with plans to reinforce older commercial areas such as Plaza Central as pedestrian-friendly areas.

The condos, next to the public library branch, will replace a building that housed Abra Costume Shop, which owner Shirley Wensil closed in January.

Grey Poole of MarkPiercePoole said his firm contacted Tuscan because of its experience in Plaza-Midwood before acquiring the costume shop property for development.

Tuscan developed 20-unit Kensington Court off Pecan Avenue and 17-unit Hawthorne Court at Hawthorne Lane's bridge over Independence Boulevard.

Three-story Central27 will be unconventional in more ways than roll-up doors.

Exterior colors will be bold - yellow on the front, which faces Central, and rosy red in back.

Interior ceilings will be nearly 11 feet high. Sprinkler-system piping and ductwork will be exposed. And kitchens and living areas will have grids for low-voltage pendant lighting.

Allison Merriman, Tuscan's project manager, said the developers will "soften" the sides of the building by using wire or mesh screening to encourage the growth of climbing vines such as ivy or akebia, a twining woody vine with fragrant chocolate-purple colored flowers.

On the front of the building, she said, the developers will work with an artist to create a facade that meshes with the character of the neighborhood, which dates to the early 1900s.

"We may be setting the tone for new residential development in the heart of Plaza-Midwood," said commercial broker Poole. "This will be a catalyst for additional development."

He might be right. Neighborhood leaders say they've heard rumors of up to 200 more residential units in the planning stages for Plaza-Midwood.

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