CHARLOTTE, NC LAW FIRM TO MOVE UPTOWN AFTER NICOLE AND RON SODOMA PRESERVES LATEST HISTORIC PROPERTY
Nicole and Ron Sodoma aren’t setting out to save historic properties.
But the Sodomas today own three buildings that are more than a century old in Charlotte, a city frequently criticized for developers tearing down old structures to make way for new projects. The couple’s holdings include the Walter Brem House on East Boulevard, the G.G. Galloway House on East Morehead and, as of this summer, a long-vacant, three-story commercial building near Graham and Sixth streets in uptown that was built in 1913.
“We’re not saving these homes, we’re not saving these buildings, but we are preserving them and we are bringing them back to life,” Ron Sodoma said.
The couple’s history of owning historic real estate in Charlotte began nearly 10 years ago, after Nicole Sodoma opened Sodoma Law in 2008. The family-law firm quickly outgrew its space in midtown, going from two to 12 employees within about a year. Nicole and Ron Sodoma, who runs an investment company and does some work in commercial real estate, began a search for a new, larger space for Nicole’s firm.
“We were driving down East Boulevard and we stopped in front of 211 East Blvd., when Hugh McColl’s gallery was across the street, and pulled over,” Nicole Sodoma said. “We both looked at (it) and said, ‘That would be amazing.'”
The property was a historic white Colonial Revival house built in 1903. But the house wasn’t for sale at the time, which led the couple to consider doing a new construction project that looked similar or try to find another existing house in a similar architectural style. But Nicole Sodoma, managing principal of Sodoma Law, said no other properties fit quite as well as the 211 East property.
At some point as the search continued, though, the 211 East Boulevard building hit the market. The Sodomas made an offer and closed in March 2010, buying the home for nearly $1.8 million.
The home is today known as the Walter Brem House, named after its first resident, a Charlotte businessman who was actively involved in the city’s public school system and YMCA. Renowned architect C.C. Hook, whose credits include the Duke Mansion and VanLandingham Estate, designed the Brem House.
The house has had a number of owners over the years, including Mae King Blume, who bought the house in the 1930s and became something of a real estate mogul in Charlotte, Ron Sodoma said, owning multiple hotels here and renting rooms at the Brem House to boarders.
Three years later, while the Sodomas were planning a 110th celebration for the Brem House — which had missed out on celebrating its centennial, Nicole Sodoma said — Dan Morrill of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission told the couple that another historic house less than a mile away, at 602 E. Morehead St., was in danger of being demolished.
“I left the meeting, drove down Morehead Street, called (colleague and historian) David Erdman and asked, ‘What do we know about 602 East Morehead?'” Nicole Sodoma said, adding the building was listed for sale and that a Charlotte developer, Beacon Partners, might be looking to buying it because of their plans for a mixed-use project on the next block — a development that would eventually become 500 East Morehead. Many in Charlotte feared the home would be torn down.
The Sodomas say they needed more office space anyway, with Sodoma Law’s growth exceeding the space at the Brem House. The couple met with then-owner Nelson Casstevens, who operated his own law firm at 602 East Morehead, and his broker, Rob Pressley, who today is president of Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA.
The house was built in 1915 and called the G.G. Galloway House, after Gaston Gilbert Galloway. It was designed by architect William Peeps and is the only remaining structure in what was once an “imposing residential district,” according to the Historic Landmarks Commission.
The couple bought the house in November 2013 for $1.5 million. During his research, Ron Sodoma found the original floorplans at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and refitted the house to those original plans, Nicole Sodoma said.
“Ron’s vision was to maintain the integrity of the house and its history,” she added.
Sodoma Law’s administrative offices and Ron Sodoma’s business, Doma Vita Capital, expanded into a portion of the house, and the remaining space was put up for lease. Today, the building acts as something of a think tank, Nicole Sodoma said, as the individual businesses and professional services that lease space there happen to work in related industries and frequently collaborate.
But the two offices on Morehead and East are, once again, not enough space for Sodoma Law, which is now up to 40 employees, Nicole Sodoma said.
“We sold some property in January of this year and we decided that it was maybe time to entertain what we were going to do next,” she said. The couple was looking to do a 1031 exchange property — nothing elaborate, Ron Sodoma said.
Pressley said he brought the Sodomas a stack of for-sale properties, including one he mentioned at the end that didn’t fit the parameters they had set.
“(That listing) didn’t fit any of the criteria of what we were looking for,” Ron Sodoma said. “I looked at it, slid it over to Nicole and I said, ‘We need to look at that.'”
It was the building at 217 Graham St. in uptown, near Sixth and Graham streets, a three-story, 18,270-square foot brick building that’s been mostly unoccupied for years — in fact, furniture dating to the mid-20th century is collecting dust in a vacant office on the ground floor. The couple did more research on the property and thought about whether it would fit their needs and whether it would be a feasible venture to pull off.
The building has been owned by the Jaffa family since the 1940s, Nicole Sodoma said, which kept it mostly empty for the last few decades. Prior to that, the building saw several tenants over the years — it was once home to the Athenian Ballroom, a venue that Johnson C. Smith University students would frequent, as well as a candy factory, printing press and office space for companies like Ajax, Ford Motor Co. and Delco. The building has also seen its share of damage, including a fire in 1922 — charred brick can still be seen in parts of the structure.
After negotiations, due diligence and a lot of thought, the Sodomas ultimately put in an offer and closed in June, paying $3.6 million for the property. Sodoma Law will move into the top two floors, taking north of 13,000 square feet, and upfit a small space for a lobby on the ground floor.
The project will be the couple’s largest and most substantial thus far, and their first commercial structure. Ron Sodoma said he hopes to come up with a design or feature on the exterior to make it a “postcard building” for Charlotte and, while preserving it, make it relevant for today. Items found in the house will be reused when possible, such as old signage, industrial fans, a vault door and an original pulley system as a light fixture, Nicole Sodoma said.
“This building right now, and probably for the past several decades, has just blended in,” Ron Sodoma said. “I want somebody on the creative side, when they walk past this building, I want them to stop; I want them to see it. What are we going to do to this building to make it alive again?”
The remaining street-level space, which has frontage on Graham, measures approximately 3,800 square feet and will be leased to a retail tenant. Pressley said a market-type tenant with a deli, beer and wine, or similar functions is being targeted for that space.
The renovations will cost millions, the Sodomas said, and will involve major work — including bringing the building up to code and replacing the roof — but the goal is for Sodoma Law to be operational at 217 North Graham by next summer. At that time, Sodoma will move out of the Brem House, which is also coming on the market for lease.
“We’re looking to find the kind of person that drives by and says, ‘I’ve just got to be in that building,'” Ron Sodoma said of the Brem House.
The Sodomas plan to retain ownership of the Galloway and Brem houses after the law firm’s move to uptown. The couple has submitted plans to the city and hopes to begin work on the Graham Street building next month.
The Sodomas don’t know whether they will keep buying historic buildings — Ron Sodoma said he has his eye on another property but declined to comment on specifics.
“We really appreciate the fact that we’re in buildings that have stood through time and there’s a story in every one of them,” he said.
C Design, Modulex and Narmour Wright Architecture are part of the project’s design team. BB&T is providing construction financing.
Originally written by Ashley Fahey for the CBJ