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Fayetteville's tallest building getting $3 million makeover in the downtown district


By Michael Futch

Photography by Cindy Burnham

Jacqueline Smith , Allison Capitol Partners Broker in Charge of the Systel Building

Jacqueline Smith remembers entering the downtown high-rise Systel Building and seeing all the existing 1970s-era decor that saddled it with a dated look from yesteryear.
“It was just another office building in our portfolio,” she said. “Now I really love the building. I have an office here.”

The 37-year-old Smith is part owner of the Keith Allison family property that holds the distinction of being the tallest building in town.

“We’re still holding that title right now,” she said on a blustery day in May.

Smith, who has a stake in Allison Capital Partners and Systel Business Equipment, is in charge of an ongoing revitalization project – the Systel Building is getting a lofty makeover.
Portions of the looming aluminum-and-glass facade building, which is located near the Market House circle at 225 Green St., have been undergoing extensive renovations since the demoing got underway in August 2018.

“It’s been almost three years. It has been slow,” said Smith, the vice president of marketing and business development at Systel. “But that’s when we’ve put our vision together. It’s a good time to get going.”

Event space on the 11th floor of the Systel Building.

Plans call for the final phase – restaurant development on the 11th floor – to be finished by the end of 2022, making it roughly a four-year project.
Smith said she took on the building development because of her license and background in real estate, which she calls a passion.
“I’ve kept that passion going,” Smith said. “This seems to be more ongoing and seems to be a bigger project.”

Last year alone, the Allison family sunk about $750,000 in capital improvements in the building, according to Smith. Besides her father, she’s one of three Allison daughters who complete the ownership group that purchased the multi-use structure in 1998 from Nationwide Insurance.

The 168-foot-high edifice dates to 1973 when it was completed for $3 million, according to online sources.
Many people recognize the 11-floor structure as the old Wachovia Building, which encompasses a total of 110,000 square feet from top to bottom and presently is home to about 35 tenants and 300 employees.

“We have a combination of state, federal and commercial tenants,” she said. “The IRS takes up a whole floor.”
Smith anticipates an eventual cost of about $3 million to complete the proposed improvements to the Systel Building.
At this time, the construction work has entered phase three of the projected four-phase project.

Jacqueline Smith , Allison Capitol Partners Broker in Charge of the Systel Building.

“The big phase is about to start on the upper floors,” she said. “A lot of that is big expenditures on the core and mechanical systems in what we call our penthouse. That heats and cools the entire building. That’s where we project significant improvements to make the building more energy efficient.”

The fifth and eighth floors – both about 10,000 square feet each – are being overhauled for new, more modern office space for the 21st-century business world.
Fortunately, a couple of tenants with the state who took up entire floors moved out, emptying those floors. That gave construction crews the opportunity to fully gut them with the new plans in mind.
“It gave us the chance to redesign the bathroom layout, the corridors, the hallways, and let in natural light,” Smith said. The work will open space for five new meeting rooms on an extra meeting room floor. Previously, Systel featured only one meeting room floor.
“Hopefully,” she added, “commercial tenants will utilize the amenities of the building more. We’ve had the building for a while. And we’ve done some updates along the way but not in a way to entice newer tenants.”

SfL+a Architects in downtown Fayetteville was contracted to oversee much of the building design and development. Since the start, the project has seen a lot of involvement from different parties, Smith said, which is important to her family to collaborate with architects, vendors and other people “who know and understand downtown Fayetteville.”

Those who lived in Fayetteville in the latter stages of the 1970s may remember when the pulsating, disco-driven Skyline nightclub anchored the top floor, giving clubbers a panoramic view of the downtown district with their drinks.

That floor, too, has been cleaned out, but the old kitchen hood from the Skyline remains intact.
“We don’t know what to do with it,” Smith said of the vacant floor. “General feedback has been that we need to re-up for another restaurant. We may continue to use it for meetings and events. We have lots of options.”

On the first floor, space has been reconfigured for a potential restaurant. That work, which comprised phase two, wrapped up about two months ago. The 1,200-square-foot industrial contemporary space includes 960 square feet of European-inspired patio space that seats 44 people. The inside restaurant spot can seat about 40 diners.

Complete with a full kitchen and the outdoor patio, the space is being promoted by the owners as “perfect for a restaurant or any kind of eatery.”
“I go back and forth,” said Smith. “We actually designed it for a coffee shop. We want to make it a Fayetteville destination.”

That initial phase on the ground floor was focused on upgrading the building’s exterior curb appeal.
“We’ve added LED lights,” Smith noted on the outside front of the Systel Building. “We’re hoping tenants can come here and hold live events.”

She said they are looking to lease to another bank. That part of the building, on the first floor, has a drive-through window. First National just left the building, she said, leaving a vacancy for another possible bank tenant.

“We’ve had a bank in here since ‘98,” said Smith. “We want to keep that, but we’re open to anything.”
And while Systel holds the leasing name rights to the building, Smith said, they are open to new naming rights. There have been inquiries, she noted.

“The general goal is to give downtown Fayetteville a sort of mixed-use space that it kind of deserves,” she said. “Some really nice office finishes, restaurants, bay, just a place people can come park. Work here, eat here, meet here. Eventually, maybe walk downtown to a (Minor League Baseball Fayetteville) Woodpeckers game. More inclusive of what is going on downtown rather than just an office corner.
“We realize people want a cool office space to work in,” Smith concluded. “Fayetteville is a very visionary town. We’ve had success in the past doing work.”