By Angela Lindsay
You could call him “The Deal Whisperer,” as Harris Faulkner of Fox News once referred to him. But R. Donahue “Don” Peebles will tell you that maintaining strong relationships, discipline and integrity are really the main contributing factors to his being one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the nation. Now, Peebles is bringing his vision and 30 years of experience to Charlotte as the head of BK Partners, a group selected by Mecklenburg County to transform 17 acres in Second Ward into a massive and dense mixed-use project of retail, apartments, offices, open space and hotel rooms called Brooklyn Village.
Peebles is founder, chairman and CEO of the Peebles Corporation, which specializes in residential, hospitality, retail and mixed-use commercial properties. Founded in 1983, the company is the nation’s largest minority-owned real estate development firm and boasts a multi-billion dollar portfolio of completed and current developments, totaling more than 6 million square feet and $5 billion. Having already achieved successful projects in gateway cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Miami and Miami Beach, Peebles has a vision for Brooklyn Village that is no less grand than the others.
“I am here because of the history of Brooklyn Village, as well as its tremendous business potential,” he says. “It is a large area in the heart of an emerging market. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I see this development as an opportunity to assist and lead in many ways the positive transformation of an area, with regards to economic inclusion and social upward mobility that has been neglected for over 40 years.”
From the late 1800s, Second Ward in uptown—once known as the Brooklyn neighborhood—was one of the city’s oldest and most prominent black communities, before its homes, churches and black-owned businesses were razed during a push for urban renewal in the 1960s. It included such institutions as the Mother House of United House of Prayer For All People and Second Ward High School, which opened in 1923 as an African-American high school.
“The issue of communities being razed is a national one that has persisted in multiple cities across America. Once we examined the potential magnitude for economic opportunity, I was fixated on how to revitalize and restore that area and do my personal part in righting a historical wrong,” Peebles says.
In addition to the Peebles Corporation, BK Partners is comprised of Conformity Corporation, a local company, and Boston-based Stantec, which has had a presence in this Charlotte since 2010. According to Mecklenburg County Manager Dena R. Diorio, the Brooklyn Village development will include Brooklyn Village North and Brooklyn Village South. Though all of the design elements haven’t been determined, she says, it will be a mixed-use, mixed-income development with open space, affordable housing components and mid-rise buildings. The total program is just over 2.3 million square feet, which includes residential, retail, office and hotel components.
“The project will help revitalize the city’s Second Ward neighborhood by bringing economic development opportunities, creating jobs, providing affordable housing and open space and working toward the Second Ward Master Plan goals,” she explains. “Further, BK Partners commitment to MSWBE (minority, women and small business enterprise) participation and affordable housing should be something we can look to as an example of the things that developers can and should do in our community.”
As part of the goal to create opportunity and spur social mobility, Peebles says BK Partners has a 35 percent MWSBE commitment goal. He anticipates the number of temporary jobs on the project is more than 2,900 and the number of permanent jobs is 2,719.
“Their creative approach to retail provides access to uptown customers for new and emerging businesses,” Diorio says. “The team plans to establish a local Entrepreneurship Institute to ensure that businesses and youth have the ability to learn leadership and management skills associated with the hospitality industry. The model for the institute is the Peebles Entrepreneurial Academy within the D.C. Hospitality High School in Washington, D.C. BK Partners is intent on creating a pathway of economic opportunity for minorities, women and small business owners. With these efforts and more, I believe that no one will do a better job of respecting the spirit and history of Brooklyn.”
To that end, a series of community meetings was held to hear feedback from Second Ward alumni, residents and other stakeholders about how best to honor the original Brooklyn, she adds—noting that BK Partners proposes “a creative celebration of the spirit of the neighborhood with good detail around a proposed memorial, current and future monuments, planned open space, a cultural center and public art.”
“The overall vision is to create a transformational development that will rejuvenate and revitalize the Brooklyn Village area for all to enjoy,” Peebles says. “We plan on weaving the history of the Second Ward throughout the development in a thoughtful and meaningful way for this development to inspire and pay homage to the essence of Brooklyn’s past while building a mixed-use community for the future.”