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A Second Life for North Carolina’s Shuttered Factories

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The High Point project, called Congdon Yards, is an effort to create a year-round gathering spot that will also draw young talent. Along with offices, the space includes a co-working area and a 6,000-square-foot workshop with commercial-grade woodworking equipment available to local designers and artisans.

For those redevelopment projects, a project in Winston-Salem serves as a shining example of what a smart adaptive reuse project might achieve.

The city has long been home to the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, now part of Reynolds American. When Reynolds moved its manufacturing operations out of town in 1986, officials from the city, Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center began making long-term plans and investments in the site. The first building was redeveloped in 2012.

Today, just about all of the warehouses, factories and other industrial facilities have been renovated in a 2.1-million-square-foot complex called Innovation Quarter. The buildings are home to the health system’s labs and the university’s medical and engineering schools, as well as companies like the I.T. firm Inmar and dozens of start-ups — all tightly clustered around a small green space.

Innovation Quarter is no moribund research park. Thousands of workers and students cross its 330 acres daily, and its administrators maintain a busy schedule of yoga classes, food trucks and lunchtime concerts in the park. That dynamism has transformed the rest of Winston-Salem, which now boasts a busy downtown with significant residential growth. The city gained workers during the pandemic, according to a McKinsey report.

“This area lost jobs in the ’80s and ’90s,” said Graydon Pleasants, the head of real estate development at Innovation Quarter. “Now, people are leaving California and leaving the big cities. The spillover is finally happening.”

The last unfinished spot abutting the park is a former power plant being redeveloped by a local firm, Front Street Capital, as an office building. In a tip of the hat to the structure’s past, the company turned an adjacent elevated rail line on concrete trestles into a walkway; below, in what was once the coal pit, locals sit at a brewery’s long tables while their children play nearby.


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