Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, Local Tech Wire features an interview with an executive or profiles a high-tech firm from the Charlotte metro area. Center City Partners’ new leader has an extensive background in event planning and the financial world — experience he hopes to use in guiding Queen City development.

Tim Newman, former vice president and general manager of the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball team, quit the Knights officially take over as president of the uptown development group in mid to late April. Newman replaces Rob Walsh, who left last month for a job in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in New York.

As president, Newman says he will focus on recruiting businesses to uptown Charlotte. He tells Local Tech Wire that while no specific plans are in place, technology will certainly be a focus.

“We’ll focus on business recruitment and economic development, and certainly the technology sector will play a role in that, but as far as particulars, I don’t have any yet,” Newman says. “But from the standpoint of amenities, we view the tech sector as involving great people, and we want to take advantage of the amenities we have and bring them to the center city and to activities associated with bright minds, which is something we’re trying to recruit anyway.”

Newman says his other goals as president include continuing to stage events uptown, bringing in more retail stores to the area and creating more affordable housing options in the mostly high-rent corporate district bounded by Interstate 277. Vacancy rates are yet another issue.

A recent study by Torto Wheaton Research of Boston shows that although vacancy rates for uptown and suburban offices and industrial properties in Charlotte have continued to rise, the city’s uptown offices remain among the most heavily occupied in the country. Of 47 downtown office markets, Charlotte’s vacancy rate of 5 percent was second lowest, behind Sacramento, CA, which Newman sees as an opportunity.

“Right now, it’s around 5 percent, which is an opportunity as I see it,” he says of uptown Charlotte’s vacancy rates. “For years, there was no space, so now this gives us an opportunity to give businesses a shot at center city. I view it as an opportunity more than a problem.”

Uptown is not the only business and technology corridor, though. Other areas of Charlotte from the South End to University City are also hot, fast-growing areas. And despite his focus on the center city, Newman says he’s pleased when a company chooses to locate anywhere in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area.

“What’s good for Charlotte is good for the center city, and what’s good for the center city is good for Charlotte…I mean the region, from Fort Mill (South Carolina) to Lake Norman,” he says. “A job is a job, and the focus is on what I can get done in the center city, but when the region wins a job, that’s a win for the whole area.”

From Big Apple to baseball diamond

A native of Eden, NC who now resides in Fort Mill, where the Knights play, Newman, 37, was a Morehead Scholar who majored in economics and public finance at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He went to work in New York at the investment banking firm of Morgan Stanley & Co. after earning his MBA at Columbia Business School. Then in 1994, he joined Wachovia Securities in Winston-Salem as a coverage officer in the municipal finance group, specializing in tax-exempt bonds and sports finance. He was there until 1997, when he joined Beaver Sports Properties, owner of the Charlotte Knights and several other minor league baseball franchises.

Krista Tillman, BellSouth’s N.C. president and vice chair of the Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) board, headed up the nationwide search committee to identify a new president out of more than 40 applicants. She said the committee found “the perfect candidate right in our own neighborhood” with Newman, whose proven track record as a consensus-builder will be vital in his role as head of the promotional organization.

“Our number one priority is business recruitment,” Tillman said in a statement. “Center City Partners needs to be part of a team that includes the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership to ensure that when we recruit a new company to this region, that company clearly understands it has an option to become part of our exciting Center City.”

As General Manager of the Knights, Newman was instrumental in significantly broadening both the sponsorship base and the fan support of the team. He also was point person on the effort to put together a public-private venture that would move the team from Fort Mill to a new stadium in South End, a goal that has not yet come to fruition.

Taking the plunge

Newman had been happily employed with the Knights for almost five years, becoming one of the region’s best know baseball figures. He has been and still is involved in an effort to bring Major League Baseball to North Carolina. But when former CCCP president Walsh asked him if he’d have any interest in the position he was vacating, Newman couldn’t refuse the offer.

“It wasn’t like I was looking for a new job, but when I saw it and looked carefully at it, it seemed like great fit,” Newman says of the presidential post. “From that standpoint, I agreed to take plunge.”

He also agrees that his background in baseball and investment banking has prepared him well for the Center City job.

“A lot of what I hope to accomplish relates to public relations and sales, in the sense of bringing in companies, events and activities, and that’s what I’ve done in the baseball business, event management and running games…I know something about events,” Newman says. “With investment banking and economic development, having those years with Morgan Stanley and Wachovia, I know the laws and opportunities with the financial structure, so that financial and legal background came into play as well, and I’ll be using those skills.”

In doing so, Newman hopes to guide Charlotte through more growth in not only its well-established business and financial sectors, but also in the area’s budding technology industry, wherever it may occur.

“We certainly recognize the importance of technology,” Newman says, “and how it fits into the overall equation, for the center city and Charlotte as a whole.”