Sept. 27--Jim Gross has been developing property around Charlotte for decades.
He's the guy who created Dilworth Crescent and Carmel Crescent, infill development projects completed long before infill became today's next big thing.
He turned the old Ivey's building uptown into residential housing back when nobody thought anyone would ever want to live uptown. And he built the Arlington -- universally known hereabouts as "The Pink Building" -- on South Boulevard back when some people's main question was, in a word, "Why?"
Not one to follow the crowd, he says he looked around in about 2005 at the white-hot real estate market and decided there was only one direction for it to go -- down. He says he stopped developing new projects and, for eight years, tried to sell all his inventory in what turned into the worst housing crisis in recent memory.
But now he's back with a new project to develop. Kenwood Myers Park will put seven townhomes ranging from $1.1 million to $1.3 million each on Selwyn Avenue near Queens Road West. The units, around 3,000 square feet each, will feature private elevators, high-end finishes and private courtyards with fireplaces.
"I want to do really unique, opportunistic developments," says Gross, an architect by training who is also now a licensed real estate broker. "My gut says that's the way to go. Stay small, stay nimble, with high quality and great location."
The man who once lived in a log cabin still isn't exactly trying to fit in. Say the words "real estate developer" and some folks picture an expensive suit and a fat wallet, both attached to a guy with dollar signs where retinas should be. Gross showed up for our interview at the Starbucks on East Boulevard wearing an Adidas T-shirt, blue jeans, flip flops and a couple days' worth of beard stubble.
His explanation of why included a big laugh and a refreshingly salty declaration that he simply didn't care to try to impress anyone by how he dresses.
That blunt, cantankerous style has earned him resentment from more than a few folks over the years.
Back in the early 2000s, when controversy flared over the so-called "Pepto pink" color of the still-under-construction Arlington, Mary Hopper, then chairwoman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, speculated that Gross enjoyed getting buttoned-down Charlotteans all riled up.
"They know he lives to get negative comments," she said at the time. "Maybe no one should comment about it; maybe that will be the ultimate."
Gross, 56, figures people have learned to accept him -- if not like him -- for who he is.
"Are there a lot of people in Charlotte I've pissed off?" he asks. "Yeah. Are there a lot of people who talk ... about me? Yeah."
"I used to wear a coat and tie when I ran my architecture firm," he adds. "What's interesting is you never really can control what people say about you or even write about you. That's their choice. You make your choice. I just decided, 'You know what? I don't care.'"
Ironically, it seems like the Charlotte real estate development game is now turning toward the kind of boutique infill projects he first did decades ago. With no more open land in Mecklenburg to develop, even big builders are looking for in-town parcels.
Gross' Kenwood project does seem a pretty rare find: a one-acre vacant lot in Myers Park. He's hoping to start construction late this year or early next year. One unit's already reserved, he says.
It's the type of development that gets his creativity flowing again. He seems to recognize that, regardless of what people think of him, they know he develops projects that stand out.
"I'm really driven by the creative side of things," he says. "When you approach things from an artistic point of view, you really have to pursue what you think is right for you, not what's right for your next-door neighbor."