Sparrow sees the dream becoming reality

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Kannapolis Citizen

Anthony Sparrow remembers standing amid all the demolition and emptiness that is still much of the N.C. Research Campus and feeling a smile creep across his face.

He was imagining what he would be seeing in two or three years — the hustle and bustle of people opening doors to research labs, crossing sidewalks into stores or taking trails to parks.

His daughters, 11 and 9, saw the smile and thought Sparrow was crazy. They were still getting used to the idea of having moved to small-town Kannapolis from metropolitan Atlanta.

But Sparrow, vice president of residential development for Castle & Cooke, embraces David H. Murdock’s dream of a 350-acre biotech center where research into foods and nutrition could end up making life better for mankind.

Sparrow’s role will be to build communities in around the campus for people who will be working at a world-class research address.

With his experience and background as a developer, Sparrow says, he could build houses anywhere. But how often are you able to tell your children and grandchildren you were part of rebuilding an economy — a legacy that will keep future generations coming back?

“That’s the story,” Sparrow said recently. “That’s the bottom line of what we’re doing here.”

Compared to Castle & Cooke’s other divisions (construction and business development), Sparrow’s residential division has the opportunity to bring in revenue relatively quickly.

The campus site includes what used to be Pillowtex’s (Cannon Mills’) Plant No. 4, on which Castle & Cooke will build some 275 dwelling units — townhomes and condominiums ranging in size from 900 to 2,000 square feet.

Sparrow says the first units could be ready for occupancy by the time the Core Lab is complete at the end of the year.

Much of Sparrow’s recent attention has been directed at the residential development of the Kannapolis Country Club.

Sparrow hired Love Golf Design and professional golfer Davis Love III to redesign the course, while the club undergoes a major transformation to go along with 585 future single-family homes.

If the whole course turns out as beautiful as what he has seen with the first four holes, Sparrow said, Kannapolis will have one of the top golf courses in North Carolina and beyond.

Meanwhile, Castle & Cooke also has its eye on 177 acres off Shue Road in China Grove for another community. Sparrow says the company remains in the “due diligence” stage of buying that property.

The Plant 4 homes will sell in the $100,000 to $400,000 range. If the Shue Road community becomes a reality, it will offer homes in the $300,000 to $500,000 category, and the Kannapolis Country Club homes will fall in the $500,000 to $1.5 million range.

The overall campus plan also calls for apartments above new retail stores and other housing units on the former Plant No. 1 site, the main part of the research center.

Sparrow says the development connected to the campus will lead to an exciting place to live, work and play. It will try to integrate the existing Kannapolis village as much as possible, and the new retail community that develops will be as nice or nicer than Birkdale Village in Huntersville, he says.

When Sparrow had his first meeting at the 485-member Kannapolis Golf Club, 385 members showed up, wanting to know what he was going to do with their golf course.

Sparrow promised the redesign would follow only what the handsome piece of land dictated. He said he immediately determined that an original plan for 800 housing units would be a travesty.

Some of the course’s golf holes will be rerouted and changed, but Sparrow says Love is sensitive to the feel of the old course and its best attributes. He will be designing a course that is playable, yet a solid challenge, Sparrow says.

And the course design will take full advantage of the topography to afford every corridor with open views and golf views — many to the lake, Sparrow says. The rerouting of some holes regains lakefront property.

All the people who didn’t want the course to change “will be saying, ‘wow,’ ” Sparrow predicts.

In the first phase of the residential development around the golf course, the company will walk rather than run, Sparrow says. Contractors won’t be building any “McMansions,” he says, but that’s not to suggest there won’t be some big homes.

Lots will come in a variety of sizes and prices.

Sparrow will bring in a vertical construction manager Feb. 1. He says the company hasn’t decided whether to build the Plant 4 townhomes itself or contract them out.

As for the homes in the Kannapolis Country Club community, Castle & Cooke will go with 15 to 20 builders. Sparrow expects to start the builder program search in March and says there will be an application process.

The builders chosen will operate under a “closed program.” Castle & Cooke will sell lots to the contractors and require them to build a certain number of speculative homes.

That way, potential buyers will continually have a good inventory of state-of-the-art homes to choose from, Sparrow says. The closed program also keeps people from buying lots as investments, which often leads to properties standing vacant for long periods of time.

Sparrow says the first lot will be drawn in July, and the first homes should begin sprouting up in 2008.

The country club will have a new “grand entrance” off West A Street.

As part of the country club community, a new family amenities center will include a junior Olympic-sized pool, a silo slide tower, splash pool, tot pool, lazy river, seven tennis courts, a sport court, barn, glade park, gardens, conservatory and greenhouse.

The community also will have trails and pocket parks.

Sparrow says he often hears people ask whether the Kannapolis Country Club’s residential component could happen without the research campus.

He thinks it could.

Sparrow says Kannapolis never really had a dichotomy of houses, and it’s ready for this type of community. He sees a pent-up demand from the medical profession, for one, and thinks it will give commuters to higher-paying jobs in Charlotte an attractive choice.

At a recent meeting of the Salisbury-Rowan Homebuilders, Sparrow encouraged the members to go after the opportunity that the research campus brings and “don’t stand on the outside.”

Castle & Cooke brought Sparrow on board last summer. A native of Washington, N.C., he grew up in Cary and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He has been involved in commercial and residential development for 26 years. Before Kannapolis, his latest project as vice president and project manager for Crescent Resources was the high-end Sugarloaf Country Club in Atlanta, a 1,000-home community around a Greg Norman golf course.

For now, Sparrow and his family are living in the Park Creek community of Cabarrus County, although they have a Davidson address.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or