Cook Medical said Wednesday it has completed purchasing an 850,000-square-foot section of the former Whitaker Park manufacturing complex in Winston-Salem.
The medical-devices manufacturer said the transaction with Whitaker Park Development Authority Inc. closed Thursday. Terms have not been disclosed.
The project, announced June 12, consists of Cook moving its local workforce of 650 to the former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. cigarette facility.
The goal is completing renovations by the end of 2019 and beginning production by late 2021 or early 2022. Cook has pledged to add 50 jobs over 10 years.
Cook is a privately owned family business with facilities around the world. It designs, develops and manufactures medical devices that are used to perform minimally invasive medical procedures, such as colonoscopies that use long flexible tubes with cameras to examine colons.
“We see Whitaker Park as an impact project in that we are converting a facility that manufactured cigarettes into a modern facility producing life-saving medical devices,” said Barry Slowey, president of Cook’s Winston-Salem location.
“We’ve been in Winston-Salem since 1983, and acquiring the Whitaker Park facility signifies a renewed commitment to this community.”
Slowey said in June that the company expects to spend “in the tens of millions of dollars” on the overall project. The project represents a near fourfold gain in space compared with the 200,000 square feet the company has in seven buildings it owns and one leased building off of Hanes Mill Road. “We have outgrown our current space for a couple of years, so this gives the opportunity to expand appropriately into all of the Whitaker Park space,” Slowey said.
Slowey said Cook likely would lease some of the Whitaker Park space it doesn’t immediately need to help pay for the renovation costs.
When Reynolds opened Whitaker Park in 1961 at a cost of $32 million, it was considered the world’s largest and most modern cigarette-manufacturing plant. In today’s dollars, the plant would cost $270.2 million to build, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At its peak, Whitaker Park had more than 2,000 workers.
Reynolds announced plans in May 2010 to close Whitaker Park as part of shifting production to its 2-million-square-foot plant in Tobaccoville. That shift was completed in 2012.
Reynolds donated what has been known as Building 601-1 to the authority when it handed over the keys to 120 acres and 13 buildings in April 2017. The Cook portion represents about half of the 1.7 million square feet donated by Reynolds.
The authority is a nonprofit corporation created in 2011 by Winston-Salem Business Inc., the Winston-Salem Alliance and Wake Forest University.
The authority’s goal with the donated properties is to make the campus a magnet for manufacturing, industrial, warehousing and distribution operations, but also possibly retail and residential space, with an overall potential capital investment of more than $200 million.
Don Flow, the authority’s chairman, said in April 2017 that “we’re confident that this project will yield more than 10,000 good-paying jobs for the community, creating new energy and vitality to this historic site.”
However, some economists have questioned whether the jobs placed in Whitaker Park represent a net gain for the local community or just a shifting of local operations, such as what Inmar Inc. did when it moved its headquarters from Indiana Avenue to become an anchor tenant in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.
Not included in the donation is the central property in between, where Reynolds continues to operate tobacco-processing and warehousing operations. Those consist of 18 buildings and 100 acres.
Winston-Salem and Forsyth County have agreed to provide up to $4 million each toward the initial project. The Golden Leaf Foundation set aside $1.7 million toward renovation and new equipment costs in 2013. That money will go to the Whitaker Park Life Sciences Building.
“There was a really good possibility that we would lose them out of Winston-Salem if we were not able to meet their needs,” Mayor Allen Joines said in June.
“The project jump-starts the Whitaker Park development by taking one of the larger sites and putting it into an active high-technology reuse. I believe this will set a great standard for the park and contribute greatly to our recruitment of additional companies.”
Whitaker Park is in one of 11 census tracts in Forsyth approved as opportunity zones by the U.S. Treasury on May 21. The economically distressed census tracts qualify to receive private investments through a new vehicle known as opportunity funds.
Stan Kelly, president of Piedmont Triad Partnership, said in June that Cook fits the region’s vision for redevelopment of Whitaker Park. The partnership considered the campus as one of its three economic-engine opportunities.
“Cook Medical’s plans tick all the boxes and will provide a tremendous anchor tenant for the further development of this property,” Kelly said.