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Sexton: Paramilitary training center plan roils Davie

MOCKSVILLE

A handful of vehicles, pickup trucks mostly, were parked in a row on a grassy slope. A small group, men and a couple of teenagers, stood in a semi-circle taking turns firing at paper targets posted downhill a short distance away.

The shots came in regular, measured bursts. Pop, pop, pop. Sunday drivers scooting past after church barely looked up; it was just a regular afternoon in the country as recreational shooters fired handguns in a controlled, safe environment on private property.

A few miles farther down Sheffield Road in a home that’s been in the Cleary family for generations, another group was meeting.

They’d recently learned details about a proposal to build a large-scale, long-distance gun range and paramilitary training center on nearby property.

Time was short — a March 17 meeting of the Davie County Board of Adjustment to consider a special-use permit for the land is fast approaching — and neighbors worried about a serious incursion into their quality of life (and property value) had to figure a way to make

their voices heard.

Before it’s too late.

“I’m for the stuff he’s trying to do. I own an AR-15,” said Jody Blackwelder, a 42-year-old small businessman and father referring to a special-use permit application filed by an outfit called Recoil Management Academy. “Just not here, not near a neighborhood. This is a fast-growing area.”

He’d seen and heard — the target shooting down the road. But that’s a much different proposition than the vision laid out in Recoil Management’s application.

“We’re not talking about 20 rounds on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. “We’re talking about 20,000 a day.”

Quiet country lifestyle

If the plan — and accompanying script — sounds familiar, it’s because this same scenario played out in 2018 across the line in Yadkin County.

Recoil Management had a very similar plan to put the same kind of training center near Yadkinville.

Back then, Recoil Management, which is led by a former military man named Kirk Peavy, approached the Yadkin County Board of Adjustment asking for a conditional-use permit to build a facility with long-range, elevated shooting towers, classroom space and, eventually, perhaps a helicopter pad and night training.

The official plan, then and now, emphasizes family-friendly sport shooting geared toward education and safety. Online, however, Recoil Management Group projected a larger, more ambitious image: a training facility for law enforcement, military groups and executive personal protection.

Think something big enough to support private military-style contractors similar to Blackwater Security. Remember them? Its employees have been judged guilty of war crimes committed in Iraq.

Except that this time, instead of being built in wide-open deserts of the American West or marshy lowlands in eastern North Carolina, this facility would be in a few miles off Interstate 40 in a country community filled with small churches and family homes.

That’s what has the neighbors in the small, unincorporated community of Cleary’s Crossroad so concerned. The roads winding through the area are named for families who’ve lived there for generations — Cleary, Duke Whittaker, etc.

A prime example is a white clapboard church, now owned by Covenant Community Church, which abuts the 138-acre plot owned by Peavy and his wife, Christina. It’s been a local landmark since the 19th century.

The Peavys, by contrast, executed a formal deed of transfer for their property just last spring.

“If I were poetic, and I’m not, I’d use words like calm, peaceful, tranquil. If this thing moves in, it will never be the same,” said Anita Allen, a resident who’s helping to organize opposition. “This sounds like a tactical training facility that ought to be miles away from people. If it gets approved, there is no going back.”

Judging from the views afforded by public roads and neighbors amenable to letting visitors walk their land, the area is like many others in rural North Carolina.

Clusters of homes dot the sides of wide-open roads. Many are sturdy brick ranchers that have been here for decades, others mobile homes and still others centered in small developments that branch off from single access roads.

The land where the proposed training center would be is rolling, has a stand of hardwoods buffering its boundary with Covenant Community Church, a nice home and a picturesque lake.

The beginnings of an access road have been built off Duke Whittaker Road, where a lone sign showing the date of the upcoming Board of Adjustment meeting has sprouted in recent days as required by law.

“We’re just now finding out (details),” said Jean Cleary, whose family home abuts the larger 138-acre tract. “It was surprising. We’ve lived a quiet life out here all our lives. We’re country people. It’s all we’ve ever known.”

Details just emerging

The Davie County Board of Adjustment is made up of five interested residents appointed by commissioners.

After a public hearing, it could approve the request, deny it outright or table it for consideration at a later date. A decision is subject to appeal in Superior Court, an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

The board’s decisions, while occasionally noteworthy for an area grappling with issues that come with rapid growth, generally don’t generate as much pushback from residents as the training center proposed by Recoil Management and the Peavys.

“We expect that it will be full,” said Andrew Meadwell, the county director of planning and development. “It will be up to the chairman, but these boards have been very liberal in terms of letting everyone speak.”

Charles Baker, a trustee of Covenant Community Church, expects that he will be one of those speakers.

“Our concern, number one, is that it’s in our backyard,” Baker said. “A church has been on that property since 1837. There’s been a church there forever. We’re concerned about noise and the safety aspect.

“If there are stray bullets, a matter of when and how often, not if … it doesn’t lend itself to being safe.”

So far, the Peavys have spoken only through a 66-page special-use permit application filed with the county in mid-February. Messages left with Recoil Management last week seeking further comment were not returned.

That’s not surprising. Peavy wasn’t overly communicative in 2018, either. A lawyer and consultants did most of the talking at a 2018 public hearing in Yadkinville.

The application filed in Davie, like the prior version across the county line, contains the results of a detailed (and likely expensive) sound study commissioned by Recoil Management that shows noise impact below levels set by local ordinances. It also has one hand-written line which says there will be no shooting on Sundays.

The document also lays out plans to recycle the lead and brass left behind by shooters — an environmental threat to local waterways seized upon by opposition in Yadkin County.

And in an effort to show that the training center would be an economic plus for the county, the Peavys also included four letters of interest from firearms instructors and local sheriffs including Davie Sheriff J.D. Hartman.

The letters are not binding contracts; they’re merely indications of interest. Peavy wrote them, and the addressees simply signed and returned them.

Still, it didn’t go unnoticed in Davie County that the elected sheriff has indicated he’s interested in using county tax dollars to irritate some of the very same citizens who pay those taxes.

Recreational shooting already takes place on the property. A row of targets has been set in the ground in front of large earthen berms. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Still, neighbors have been alarmed by the use of what sounds like Tannerite — exploding rifle targets. “My mother’s 93 years old,” Jean Cleary said. “I couldn’t explain to her what was happening. All I could do was tell her to turn the TV up wide open.”

Neighbors who are planning to fight the proposal, to a man or woman, are quick to say their objections are not anti-gun. Far from it.

“If it was, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Blackwelder said. Rather, his objection is rooted in scale and volume.

“What’s being pitched isn’t for recreational (shooting),” he said. “You don’t spend that kind of money for me to be able to come down the road to shoot one day a month. You do it to make millions training (military) contractors for the government.”


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Evergreen Farm in southwestern Forsyth County makes National Register of Historic Places list

Evergreen Farm on Jonestown Road in southwestern Forsyth County near Winston-Salem has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The farm was owned by James Monroe “Ploughboy” Jarvis, a man of many talents — from progressive farmer to journalist.

Martha Hartley, a preservation planner, and her husband, M.O. Hartley, an archeologist, of King prepared the nomination as consultants for Jarvis’ descendants — the Hauser family.

“It is a well-deserved honor that Evergreen Farm is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to recognize the significance of James Monroe Jarvis and his elegantly designed progressive farm where he developed the ‘Jarvis Golden Prolific’ corn,” said Martha Hartley. “That his farm remains intact and preserved is due to the stewardship of his descendants who continue to live on the farm and care for the place.”

Evergreen Farm is between Clemmons and the developed Hanes Mall Boulevard area.

“It is significant to have an intact historic farm so close to the city,” said Hartley, adding that so many farms have transitioned to other uses.

Jane Shore, the great- granddaughter of James Monroe Jarvis, and her mother, Johnnie Hauser, the wife of Jarvis’ grandson, the late Jarvis Monroe Hauser, spoke of the historic places listing.

“It’s such an honor and a privilege,” Johnnie Hauser said.

Shore said her great- grandfather was ahead of his time and would be beyond thrilled about the historic places listing.

Other places in the Triad that were recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places are the Ben and Barbara Graves House and Ridge Westfield Elementary School, both in Mount Airy.

The 1953-1954 Ben and Barbara Graves House, an example of early modernist domestic architecture, is a one-story International Style house designed by NCSU School of Design professor Cecil D. Elliott. Ridge Westfield Elementary School is significant in the areas of education and ethnic heritage for its contribution to the history of segregation/desegregation-era African American education in Surry County. It is a one-story Modernist building that was designed by John M. Franklin, an Elkin architect, and built in 1956-1957.

‘Ploughboy’

Born August 27, 1857, Jarvis was raised on family land in the southern Forsyth County community of Hope Moravian Church and Fraternity Church of the Brethren.

He left home in February 1876 and worked for several years in Texas and Oklahoma, where he was a Pony Express rider, according to National Register of Historic Places nomination documents.

He returned home in January 1880. The following year, he married Augusta Elizabeth Jones, a daughter of the neighboring T.F. and Margaret S. Jones family. The couple had four children — Claudius Eugene, Dudley Monroe, Bertha and Ruth.

He created Evergreen Farm from more than 73 acres of land that he acquired when his father died in 1894. That land increased by more than 14 acres of contiguous land inherited by his wife when her father died in 1914, bringing the total tract to 88 acres.

Jarvis commented about Evergreen Farm in 1930 in Jarvis Journal, Volume 3, pages 32-33: “...when I came in possession of this farm in 1894 I came into it with a good deal of experience and training that had been acquired in the school of hard knocks and a mind somewhat trained to think as well as a particular liking for nature and nature’s works...it wasn’t but a few years until folks began to notice that my corn seemed to be better than that of other farmers around me.”

Jarvis, who Shore called a self-educated man, would go on to become a respected geneticist.

He was also a newspaper columnist. By 1900, he was a regular writer for the newspaper, The Union Republican in Winston, which published his weekly “Farm Talk” column. Jarvis wrote under the pen name “Ploughboy.”

His personal journals detailed his work on Evergreen Farm as well as observations about his past and his community.

Jarvis was also a carpenter as well as a photographer, who documented his farm through his photographs.

He had his own canning process in the farm’s smokehouse.

“He was into everything,” Shore said.

The farm

Evergreen Farm is at Ploughboy Lane, named for Jarvis, in the Pine Grove community.

A turn-of-the-20th century progressive farm, Evergreen Farm has extant buildings and landscape and archaeological evidence that are significant at the state level in the areas of agriculture, archaeology, science and education.

The core of the farm is a T-plan farmhouse that fronts Jonestown Road.

Built in 1896, the house was expanded in 1932. The expansion enlarged and re-oriented the house by connecting the original two-bedroom house to the original detached kitchen with a living room and a dining room, according to the National Register of Historic Places nomination documents.

The house features a projecting front gable at the north end, an attached front porch and rear ell.

Both the house yard and farmyard are contributing sites on the property. Other important features and structures on the land are a well, the meathouse/milk house, the yard drain, two privies, and the red barn with archeological features of two filled wells and a nearby hog pen.

Of the two privies, Shore said that other family members had an outhouse, but her great grandfather had his “closet and bathroom,” or what they called his “thinking room.”

“It was a toilet,” Shore said. “Well, an outhouse. It was his bathhouse and that’s where he read… It was his time, and nobody bothered him.”

Built in 1909, the closet and bathroom had the toilet area, along with space for a wood stove, ventilation and a corner area for a wash basin.

Jarvis harvested yellow pine from his land to construct buildings on the farm.

“Tree lines for mature woodlands remain intact and forest continues to be the predominant land use of Evergreen Farm,” state the nomination documents.

After his death in 1947, a small pond was created on the land.

Johnnie Hauser said she remembers family and community gatherings on the grounds of the farm on Sundays.

“They had the corn shuckings, hog killings and wheat threshings,” Hauser said.

“All the neighbors would come, and you’d fix lunch for them,” she said.

Evergreen Farm was described in an N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources press release as “an important example of the movement toward progressive and modernized agriculture in the late-19th and 20th centuries as the location of a private experimental farm....”

James Monroe Jarvis, who made significant contributions as a leader in North Carolina’s development and use of new agricultural practices, operated the farm between 1894 and 1944.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture recognized his farm for genetic experimentation that resulted in the development of the “Jarvis Golden Prolific” seed corn, which was planted across the Southeastern United States and into the Midwest. Today, “Jarvis Golden Prolific” is an heirloom variety that was brought back to the commercial market by New Hope Seed Co., Open-Pollinated & Heirloom Seeds in Bon Aqua, Tenn., and is distributed by Victory Seed Co. in Molalla, Ore.

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ press release stated that “Evergreen Farm is also archaeologically significant for its potential to yield information important to the history of James Monroe Jarvis’s explicit management of the farm as part of the 20th-century agricultural modernization movement of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Shore spoke of how important it has been over the years for Jarvis’s descendants to preserve the buildings and history of the farm because it meant so much to her great grandfather and her grandmother, Ruth Jarvis Hauser, the youngest of Jarvis’s children.

“My great grandfather and my grandmother would be thrilled if they knew this was going on and that we still live here,” Shore said.


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Providence Kitchen at the BB&T building in downtown Winston-Salem will close Friday after 1½ years of operation

Providence Kitchen restaurant will close Friday after operating nearly 1½ years on the ground floor of the former BB&T building in downtown Winston-Salem.

The restaurant is closing because Truist Financial Corp. is leaving the building at 200 W. Second St. and moving its employees to three other sites that it owns in Winston-Salem, said Chef Jeff Bacon, the executive director of Providence Restaurant and Catering as well as its Culinary Training Program.

“It’s just an unavoidable situation,” Bacon said Sunday. “They (Truist Financial) are leaving, and we are leaving. Obviously, it’s disappointing.”

Providence Kitchen opened in September 2018 inside the landmark green-glass skyscraper, offering breakfast and lunch to more than 600 BB&T employees and city residents.

It was the second restaurant from Providence, a nonprofit program of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina Inc.

Providence Restaurant, which is at 5790 University Parkway in Winston-Salem, will remain open, Bacon said. The eight employees at Providence Kitchen have been offered jobs at Providence Restaurant and within its culinary training program, Bacon said.

Closing Providence Kitchen is the right approach, said Eric Aft, the chief executive at the Second Harvest Food Bank.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Aft said in an emailed statement. “However, it is our obligation to ensure that we responsibly manage the resources entrusted to us by our donors and the community.

“Our commitment is to deliver vital food through our partner agency network to our neighbors facing hunger and provide people with the skills for a culinary arts career and pathway to financial stability,” Aft said.

Providence began more than 10 years ago as the Triad Community Kitchen, a culinary training program developed by Bacon with Second Harvest. In 2015, Bacon and his team opened Providence Restaurant and Catering in the DoubleTree on University Parkway.

The idea behind the restaurant was threefold: to serve guests at the hotel; to provide kitchen space for the program’s expanding catering operations; and to offer intensive residency programs to give real-world experience to graduates of the training program, now called Providence Culinary Training.

Providence Kitchen at the BB&T building continued that mission of providing jobs and experiences to culinary-program graduates. BB&T provided the restaurant’s space, much of the kitchen equipment and free rent, Providence Kitchen said Saturday on its Facebook page.

The plan to close Providence Kitchen was “nothing that anyone could have foresaw,” Bacon said. “We wouldn’t have had a Providence Kitchen had it not been for BB&T.

“They (BB&T officials) didn’t know they were going to merge with SunTrust when they started that restaurant with us,” Bacon said. “We certainly didn’t know two months ago what the future of that building would be.”

In February 2019. BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. announced that they would merge and become the nation’s sixth largest traditional bank.

After the proposed merger was announced, the business at Providence Kitchen became erratic, Bacon said.

“Prior to that, business was good,” Bacon said. “There has been a steady erosion of business since the merger was announced.”

Truist Financial Corp., the name of the merged banks, began operating officially at midnight Dec. 6, 2019 with a branch presence in 17 Southeast and mid-Atlantic states and $463.7 billion in total assets.

Its headquarters is in Charlotte, but Truist’s community/retail banking hub remains in Winston-Salem.

The decision announced last week to move out of the former headquarters building in downtown Winston-Salem is part of corporate strategy to shift from leased spaces to company-owned ones, a Truist spokeswoman said. Truist’s employees will move to spaces at 101 N. Cherry St., known as the Park Building, and to 110 and 150 S. Stratford Road in the city’s Five Points area.

The operational moves are expected to be complete in a few months. Truist will retain its downtown branch in the landmark building.

“Two weeks ago, we knew that they would be accelerating their plans to get out of that (the BB&T) building,” Bacon said. “We had to make some choices and decisions about what we were going to do.”

Truist Financial has been honored to partner with Providence Kitchen and Second Harvest Food Bank, said Kyle Tarrance, the company’s director of media relations and issues management.

“Not only are our teammates big fans of their food, we also recognize the important contributions they make to the Winston-Salem community and hope to continue our partnership in the future,” Tarrance said in an email.

Bacon said he’s thankful for the Providence Kitchen.

“We are grateful for BB&T for starting this project with us and the community here in Winston-Salem for supporting us with this — the all too short of time that we were there,” he said.


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Truist departing downtown tower will test city's re-purposing successes

It would be easy for local civic and economic officials to slap their heads and say, “Here we go again” with the news of Truist Financial Corp.’s plan to exit the landmark downtown building that served as BB&T’s corporate headquarters for 25 years.

After all, the news signifies that all six of downtown’s signature towers — each built specifically for a primary occupant or owner — will have had high-profile users move on from the facilities

The good news is those officials are quite familiar with breathing new life into the buildings.

All of the previous five properties have been converted into successful multi-tenant use: two former Wachovia Corp. headquarters buildings, the former GMAC Insurance building, the former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. headquarters and the Nissen Building.

The daunting news is that it took several years to repurpose each tower amid worries that at least four — Winston Tower, GMAC, Reynolds and Nissen — could have become white elephants.

Truist completed its move to Charlotte on Dec. 6 when the nation’s sixth-largest bank debuted following BB&T’s $33.5 billion purchase of SunTrust Banks Inc. Truist’s community/retail banking hub remains in Winston-Salem.

Truist spokeswoman Shelley Miller said last week that employees will move to company-owned office spaces at 101 N. Cherry St., known as the Park Building, and to 110 and 150 S. Stratford Road in the Five Points area.

“Winston-Salem’s efforts over the years to redevelop available buildings prove that smart strategy can create thriving districts,” said Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve seen it in the Innovation Quarter, 500 West 5th, Industry Hill, the Kimpton Cardinal (hotel), the arts district, and more.

“Reinvention is in our DNA, and we will approach this property with as much effort and dedication as our community has with those other projects in the past,” Owens said.

BB&T buys, then sells Nissen Building

The first repurposing challenge and opportunity came in May 1999, when BB&T Corp. spent $2.5 million to buy the former First Union Building from Aon Consulting Inc. The 18-story building at 310 W. Fourth St. was known as the Nissen Building until the late 1960s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Nissen Building always has been ahead of its time, a skyscraper built in 1926 and 1927, just before the Reynolds Building in 1929.

But the building never had a consistent anchor. Major tenants, such as the federal government and Aon, came and went, and floors were either unfinished or unoccupied for much of the past century.

As part of the BB&T purchase, Aon moved about 400 employees to University Corporate Center, formerly the headquarters of RJR Nabisco near Wake Forest University’s athletic complex.

BB&T said in May 1999 it could take as many as four years for the bank to become the building’s primary tenant.

However, BB&T agreed in August 2000 to sell the building for about $2 million to Prime Residential LLC, a development company based in Chicago that converted the building into 132 apartments, along with restaurant space.

“If we had kept it for ourselves, it would’ve been in mothballs for several years,” David Park, executive vice president at BB&T overseeing the sale, said at that time.

“We felt that leaving the building in that mothball condition would be the wrong thing to do for the city.”

Prime Residential spent about $26 million on the conversion project.

Jack Steelman, executive director of the Downtown Development Corp. at the time, described BB&T’s decision to let the building become residential as “an incredibly community-minded thing to do.”

Second Wachovia building

The second of Wachovia’s three corporate headquarters in Winston-Salem officially opened at 301 S. Main St. in 1966.

The 30-story building was briefly the tallest in the Southeast. It was listed in 2001 on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Wachovia leased the 425,761-square-foot building from companies linked to JMB Realty Corp., a real-estate company based in Chicago.

It kept headquarters operations there until moving in 1995 to the $80 million Wachovia Center at 100 N. Main St.

JMB later defaulted on a loan that was secured by Winston Tower and a neighboring building, so in 2003 a local investment group bought the buildings at foreclosure for $1.5 million and assumption of the defaulted loan.

Winston Tower Properties LLC installed new systems, such as heating, cooling, water supply, electrical service and distribution, as well as fiber optics. New solar films were installed on all windows, and two banks of elevators, or 11 in total, were updated.

The new owners succeeded in landing some tenants, but have struggled at times to get a majority of the space leased.

A marketing flier by Christopher Commercial Properties lists up to 100,000 square feet of space being available.

Wachovia tower opens

The 28-story Wachovia headquarters at 100 N. Main St. was open just six years before the bank was sold to First Union Corp. for $13.4 billion in April 2001.

With the Wachovia headquarters jobs shifted to First Union’s hub in Charlotte, the 546,315-square-foot building changed ownership four times from 2004 to 2018.

The most recent purchase was by Oklahoma City real-estate developer WFC Property LLC for $62 million.

The previous owner, SL Winston-Salem LLC of New York, bought the property for $36 million in October 2008 — just weeks after the Wachovia collapse during the Great Recession and its subsequent sale to Wells Fargo for $7 billion.

The building has remained at near full capacity, thanks to Wells Fargo operations on floors 1 through 14, 16 and 27 through 28, using about 400,000 square feet.

A recent listing by the Triad chapter of CBRE lists space available in the range of 1,000 to 53,000 square feet.

Besides Wells Fargo, tenants include Al Watson Corporate Image, Alex Brown, Aon Risk Service Inc., Craft Cleaners, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, and Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Reynolds moves

The next downtown tower to experience the loss of its anchor tenant was the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. corporate headquarters.

It debuted in 1929, a signature building that was the model for the Empire State Building.

Even though the 22-story building aged well over the years, Reynolds decided in the early 1980s that it needed more space than its 239,781 square feet.

In 1982, Reynolds opened the Plaza Building next door with 449,150 square feet.

In the midst of waves of job-cutting consolidation moves, Reynolds announced in October 2008 it would vacate the former headquarters by early 2010.

“We are beginning a process of analysis, input and planning for the best future use of the Reynolds Building that takes into account not only its practical usage, but its historic significance to the community and the role it can play in downtown development,” spokeswoman Maura Payne said in October 2008.

A Greensboro hotel developer, Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, did an extensive review of the building in 2011 and 2012 as a potential upscale hotel.

In December 2012, the developer nixed the project, saying the reality of spending tens of millions of dollars on buying and renovating the building in an economic downturn was too much to pursue.

It was another 18 months before developer PMC Property Group purchased the building for $7.8 million in June 2014.

PMC spent an estimated $60 million overall to convert it by April 2016 into the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, which has 174 guest rooms on the second through sixth floors, and the Residences @ the R.J. Reynolds Building, which features one- and two-bedroom apartment models on the seventh to 19th floors.

GMAC sells

The next economic tremor surrounding a downtown tower occurred in October 2009 when GMAC Inc.’s local operations were sold to an investment group led by an affiliate of American Capital Partners LLC of Hauppauge, N.Y.

Although the more than 700 GMAC jobs were not affected by the sale, the new owners eventually decided it didn’t need all the space in the 18-story building.

According to Forsyth County Register of Deeds data, the complex changed hands from a real estate investment trust to its lender, 500 W. Fifth Street Holdings LLC, in 2012.

In August 2013, National General Holdings Corp., the new brand for GMAC, announced plans to move its operations into the Madison Park business park at 5650 University Parkway.

After National General completed its move in June 2014, the building sat idle until June 2017, when automotive executive Don Flow stepped into the gap.

Affiliate Flow 500 West Fifth LLC spent $6.15 million to buy the property from Slate Winston Holdings Inc. It has since spent more than $10 million on renovating the building back into Class A office space.

Flow Automotive is occupying about 90,000 square feet of space for its workforce of about 140 of its 875 employees in the county.

If sock manufacturer Renfro Corp. leases the 10th floor along with the 11th floor it has taken, the 18-story tower would be at 90% occupancy for its 310,091 square feet of rentable space, according to Buddy Thomas, Flow’s director of real estate.

The tenant base has great diversity, including: Flywheel, a co-networking space provider; Teall Capital Partners; Winston Starts, a nonprofit group that aims to accelerate the growth of startup businesses; a loan-production office for Select Bank; and co-developer Grubb Properties on the second floor.

The building’s ownership has made a three-year commitment to provide a customized space and other in-kind support to the UNC Schools of the Arts’ Kenan Institute, Salem College’s Center for Women in Entrepreneurship and Business, Wake Forest University’s Center for Private Business and for Forsyth Country Day School.

New use for BB&T building

Owens said he believes the BB&T Financial Center could serve again as a one-user building or for multiple tenants.

“Winston-Salem’s comparatively low Class A office rates and growing downtown make this building perfectly situated for economic growth, and it will be a key asset in our real estate portfolio,” Owens said.

“This is another great opportunity to market our downtown business core to local and external investors.”

John H. Boyd, a national site-selection expert based in New Jersey, said the building owners should be successful in attracting another financial-services tenant given the industry workforce in the Triad.

He said an industry trend is shifting back-office operations “from hyper-costly and congested markets of New York, Boston and Philadelphia.”

He cited examples that have worked in Nashville, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, Fla.

“Our JPMorgan Chase client now has more workers in Columbus than in New York City,” Boyd said.

“A single-tenant marketing focus would also distinguish the skyscraper from the competitive pressures from some of the other re-purposed campuses.”

Keith Debbage, a joint professor of geography and sustainable tourism and hospitality at UNC Greensboro, said civic and economic officials would be wise to “move swiftly to attract new tenants.”

“The problem is this will be a huge challenge, and it is likely that it will take quite a bit of time to reposition the building,” Debbage said.

“Of course, will the new occupants pay the sorts of salaries and offer the sorts of employment opportunities provided by the previous tenants?

“Likely not.”