Business
2:56 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

One of the Biggest Economic Development Projects in the Country is Taking Place in Winston-Salem

The area within the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem will soon look like a town within the city.

The former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco buildings in Winston-Salem are being renovated for future economic development. Some of the new tenants will be Forsyth Technical Community College and the YMCA Express.
Credit Keri Brown

In the early 1990’s, officials with Wake Forest University, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and city and county officials began looking into the idea of creating a downtown research park in Winston-Salem.

The area was originally called the Piedmont Triad Research Park, but in March, the name was changed to Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

Eric Tomlinson is President the Innovation Quarter. He says more than $500 million will be invested in the project by the end of 2014.  

“When you add it all up together, by the end of 2014, we expect there to be about 2,800 people working in Innovation Quarter, compared to about 1,000 today. We expect there to be in addition about 2,200 accommodation units in and around this research park, so that means a town, a community suddenly is developing within downtown Winston-Salem,” says Tomlinson.

The downtown Research Park consists of three phases. The first one includes the re-purposing of the former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco buildings, also known as the “90 series”. Tomlinson says this project involves splitting the buildings into two sections.

“The northern half will be called 635@Vine and the southern will be called 525@ Vine. 635@ Vine will become the home for Inmar, who will be moving in starting in February of next year.  In the southern part of the 90’s buildings, now with the announcement that Forsyth Tech will move their Emerging Technology Center there and with the YMCA Express moving into 525@Vine, we are starting to get tenants committed to that space,” says Tomlinson.

The “90 series” buildings and land for the project were donated to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center by R.J. Reynolds. Wake Forest sold the properties to Wexford Science & Technology of Baltimore. Tomlinson say the private developer used tax credits for the reconstruction to bring the buildings online for about half of the renovation costs. The company is leasing the buildings to Wake Forest Baptist and other tenants.

Dr. John McConnell is the CEO of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He explains how the hospital is using the site to help spur economic growth in the region.

“Right behind my left shoulder is the Dean building, which houses Dr. Atala’s world class Regenerative Medicine Institute. On the other side of Innovation Quarter in the old R.J Reynolds buildings. We have opened one new research building that houses biomedical engineering, microbiology, immunology and other research programs. We are constructing the next facility after that and our world class public health science division will be moving downtown along with our public science division,” says McConnell.

Phase two involves more than 40 acres of land. Wake Forest Baptist has partnered with city and county officials to build a flood retention pond on the site.

Tomlinson says they also are collaborating to help draw future businesses to the site. Another iconic building they are focusing on is the former Bailey Power Plant.

“We expect the Bailey Power Plant to be developed over the next few years as a mixed use facility with restaurants, cafes, exhibition space, perhaps even a grocery store. There is a fantastic opportunity to light up those chimney stacks, or even turn the chimney stacks into some sort of art feature,” says Tomlinson.

Phase three of the project is south of Business 40. The Center for Design and Innovation, which is currently housed in Winston-Tower, is building a new facility in the research park.

Tomlinson says Innovation Quarter will eventually become a destination, with a park and Greenway. The Greenway would link with the Salem Connector and Salem Lake.  Overall, Innovation Quarter has 140 developable acres. Tomlinson says only about one-sixth will be completed by the end of next year.

A new roadway opened a few weeks ago to give the public more access to the site. Graydon Pleasants oversees the real estate development for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. He says the project is one of the biggest economic development projects taking place in the country.

“If you were a visitor to Winston-Salem five years ago, and you drove East on I-40 or West, and you looked North or South, what you see was an aging concrete plant spewing dust , and then you saw old distribution companies with an old industrial nature. If that same visitor rides by there by today, they see a brand new facility with a road and developable land and a totally different economy. It's a new front door to Winston-Salem,” says Pleasants.

Pleasants says officials with Innovation Quarter expect to announce more tenants within the coming months.

Eric Tomlinson and other officials describe the project phases of Innovation Quarter & Research Parkway.