The boom along Exit 49


By Josh McCann
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Adding a major resort and indoor water park would further transform one of the most attractive developing areas in the Charlotte region, officials said.

The project, planned by Wisconsin-based developer Great Wolf Lodge for a site just off Speedway Boulevard, would provide a new type of draw to lure tourists and business to Interstate 85’s Exit 49, said John Cox, president and CEO of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp.

“This is a market changer for us because it extends the tourism options,” Cox said. “It makes us a destination.”

Among a host of retailers, restaurants and hotels, the bustling corridor is bookended by two of the state’s top tourist attractions in the outlet stores of Concord Mills and the Lowe’s Motor Speedway NASCAR track.

The market in the vicinity is so strong already that another major recent development, the Embassy Suites hotel, is planning to expand months after it opened in January.

The $65 million hotel and adjoining Concord Convention Center, which sit next to the city’s Rocky River Golf Club, will add another 120-150 suites to a current total of 308, said general manager Terry Crawford.

Plans also call for adding another 30,000 square feet of meeting space and another 2,000 square feet to the facility’s spa. Ground should be broken in the second quarter of next year, Crawford said.

Those upgrades would bring the total footprint of the complex to 850,000 square feet, putting it among the largest of more than 170 Embassy Suites locations worldwide, Crawford said. 

Great Wolf’s site plans also include a “convention center,” but Crawford said that facility would be far smaller than his.

“Our niche is going to be meetings and conventions,” Crawford said. “It does what it does, and we do what we do.”

Not only would Great Wolf not pose a competitive challenge in the Embassy’s segment, Crawford said, but its 409 rooms would provide needed additional capacity for meetings, Crawford said.

Two limited-service hotels are slated for development next to the Embassy within the next 18 months, but Crawford said there should be plenty of visitors to sustain even more new rooms.

“We definitely changed the landscape,” Crawford said. “Because of the convention center really, we need to change the landscape again.”

The flurry of new and planned construction has combined to bring a sense of momentum to the area beyond its anchor racetrack, Cox said.

As long as there is undeveloped land nearby, Crawford said the rapid change will likely continue. 

Other developers can’t help but notice the mix of offerings that Great Wolf and others have found desirable, said Crawford, who also sits on the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority’s board of directors.

“That tells you it’s a hot market.” There’s something here that is distinctive.”

• Contact Josh McCann: 704-789-9152.

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