2006 a key year in Kannapolis' history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2007

Staff report

Decades from now, when historians write about the North Carolina Research Campus, 2006 will be described as one of the formative years.

But an important year, nonetheless.

It saw the last remnants of Charlie Cannon’s textile empire come down, and it witnessed one of the first major structures rise from the ground.

The year saw local governments try to get a better handle on what the biotech campus could mean economically, how to pay for improvements associated with it, what challenges it presents and how the entire region is on the brink of major change.

The developer, David Murdock’s Castle & Cooke, set out to establish an executive team, recruit businesses to the campus, plan new residential communities and forge partnerships.

Murdock himself promised world-class equipment and a $200 million venture capital fund to attract biotech entrepreneurs.

And 2007 looks to be a year when the former textile site begins its transformation from mostly a demolition site to mostly a construction site.

Here’s a look back at some of the campus developments in 2006:

* Much of the campus’ advanced equipment will be in the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building, which had a groundbreaking ceremony in February and a “topping off” celebration in August.

The 311,000-square-foot building will house a state-of-the-art contract manufacturing biogenic facility and tenants. Its construction is ahead of schedule and will be finished in 2007.

* In late March, D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. and Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp. imploded two giant buildings on the former Plant No. 1 site — the bleachery and the remaining portion of the towel distribution center. Blasts in November 2005 had demolished much of the rest of the plant.

The leveling of the structures in March qualified as the third largest implosion in American history, according to David Griffin Jr. The November and March implosions together leveled more than a million square feet of buildings.

* This summer, Castle & Cooke added two key executives to the research campus team: Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development, and Anthony Sparrow, vice president of residential development.

Higgs traveled worldwide in 2006, trying to recruit businesses to the biotech campus. He is strongly promoting the $200 million venture capital fund being set up by Murdock, and he signed two tenants — the Biomarker Group and Pelican Life Sciences.

Sparrow will be overseeing development of residential projects adjacent to the campus, including upscale homes surrounding Kannapolis Country Club.

About 500 housing units are projected for the campus area and some 650 or more for the country club.

* In July, members of the North Carolina General Assembly approved start-up funds for the participation of the UNC system and the North Carolina Community College System at the research campus.

UNC-Charlotte’s Charlotte Research Institute also opened to help support the development of the campus.

* In August, 900 pounds of explosives were used to bring down the iconic Fieldcrest and Cannon smokestacks, which started to make room for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for Excellence in Nutrition and N.C. State University’s Institute for Advanced Fruit and Vegetable Science.

* Also in August, Murdock announced plans to purchase a 950 MHz actively shielded NMR — the world’s most powerful superconducting magnet — and house it in the Core Lab.

The two-story, 8-ton machine will enhance areas of research such as drug development and nutrition. The purchase of this equipment on behalf of the campus’ nonprofit institute underscores the project’s commitment to world-leading science, according to Castle & Cooke.

* In September, David Sampson, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, visited the campus and said, “I don’t know of any other place in the country that has this kind of strategy and this kind of commitment of resources.”

* Earlier in the year, then U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow toured the campus and said, “We’ll continue to lead the global economy because of what you are doing here.”

* In October, Castle & Cooke — owners of Kannapolis Country Club — announced plans for a major renovation to the course, a new family center with tennis courts and a swimming pool and renovations to the clubhouse exterior.

Pro golfer Davis Love III’s firm was hired to redesign the golf course. A projected 550 to 600 single-family residential units also are part of the country club’s makeover.

* Atlanta-based Market Street Services released its Economic Impact Assessment and SWOT Analysis in October, looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to the research campus.

Officials view the analysis as an important economic development tool and blueprint. It placed priorities on improving K-12 education, embracing diversity, better preparing the workforce and expanding amenities to improve the quality of life.

Market Street estimated that jobs at the research campus could total 5,535 once campus construction is completed by 2013. By 2032, those jobs could attract an additional 9,291 biotech jobs to Cabarrus and Rowan counties, the study said.

Those projections do not include jobs spawned by the campus that are not directly related to biotech.

* This fall, the city of Kannapolis and Cabarrus County received several other reports: The NCRC Tax Increment Projection Study, the NCRC Fiscal Impact Report and the Development Financing Plan.

The documents project tax revenues local governments might receive from a fully built-out campus and what increase in annual operating costs to expect. They also provide the basis for setting up a special tax district and the issuance of $76 million in self-financing bonds.

The 20-year bonds would be paid off from tax revenues coming from the special Kannapolis tax district The proceeds from the bonds would go toward millions in infrastructure improvements in Kannapolis related to streets and intersections, parks, streetscapes, utilities and a parking garage for the Core Lab.

* On the third scheduled try in November, D.H Griffin Wrecking Co. brought down the 1941 red-and-white-checkered water tower on the former Plant No. 1 site.

It was essentially the last physical reminder of the textile empire built by Cannon before going out of business as Pillowtex in 2003.

* Earlier this month, the research campus signed deals with the University of North Carolina system outlining their public-private partnerships.

The agreement described the roles of UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University. Each of the schools will have a research building on the campus and use of the Core Lab.

The universities will lease their facilities from Castle & Cooke for 20 years, after which the buildings become state property.

* Rowan-Cabarrus Community College hired Dr. Ed Otto as its director of biotechnology as the college prepares to offer associate degree programs in biotechnology, introductory biotech courses, expanded course offerings and a newly focused career center — all in connection to the campus.