When it comes to land, Chatham’s in high demand

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MONCURE — A regional developer who just bought 193 acres of land near Triangle Innovation Point — the latest in a series of high-acreage purchases in Chatham — says location and vision make the county ripe for growth and “hot” for sellers.

Ray Covington, a Sanford native who lives in Whitsett, and business partner Mark Lyczkowski, paid $3 million for the land along Old U.S. Hwy. 1 through their MAD Pea Ridge LLC in early December, as reported by the Triangle Business Journal.

“Our properties are adjacent to Triangle Innovation Point [TIP] East and West and U.S. 1 with current zoning of Light Industrial,” Covington told the News + Record. “Our goal is to work closely with the leadership of Chatham County and TIP to complement their vision for the jobs coming to this area.”

That acquisition fits a strong recent pattern. Michael Smith, the president of Chatham’s Economic Development Corporation, said the EDC had a record year in 2021 for interest in, and visits to, the county’s two megasites — the Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site in Siler City and the TIP site in Moncure.

“We’ve had a number of large projects consider both sites, and we hope to be able to share more information soon,” he said.

A multibillion semiconductor chip manufacturer is eyeing Triangle Innovation Point, it has been widely reported. Business North Carolina reports that project details haven’t been disclosed because no decision has been made by the unnamed company considering an operation, although dozens of state and regional economic development officials are familiar with the project. One such official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the News + Record an announcement about the project was expected in January or February.

Covington, for one, thinks it’ll be the first in a series of announcements for Chatham in 2022.

“Location and vision,” he said when asked why Chatham was primed for industrial and commercial growth. “The Research Triangle Park is quickly running out of viable land for significant employers who want to capitalize on our location to some of the best colleges and universities in the country.”

Another part of the attraction, Covington said, was working with Chatham County staff and other developers on a long-range plans.

“We really like to work with Dan [County Manager Dan LaMontagne] …” he said. “Chatham County is very fortunate to have some great leaders. And we just like to work within the process and the system and the leaders. It just makes life so much easier to try to be a part of that vision versus trying to do something different.”

And what are Covington’s plans for the 193 acres?

“We already have a number of different concepts that we’re working with,” he said. “And we’re thinking through and we’re getting feedback from leadership. And the feedback has been very positive.”

'A focal point for distribution'

The 2,150-acre Triangle Innovation Point, formerly known as the Moncure Megasite, was rebranded recently. It was under consideration as a manufacturing site for Peloton, which makes internet-connected stationary bicycles and treadmills and streams remote workout classes for subscribers. That plant — and its 2,100 jobs — went to Ohio, and now the TIP site is being marketed as a tech and life sciences hub.

Covington pointed to North Carolina’s success in creating transportation networks as a key to its statewide job growth. And Chatham County, he said, is right in the middle of that — literally and figuratively.

“Over the last 60 years, we’re fortunate that we’ve become a focal point for distribution across the country and across the East Coast,” he said.

The recent announcement of the U.S. Hwy. 421 corridor from Greensboro to I-95 potentially becoming a new interstate — I-685, as a part of a newly passed federal infrastructure bill — will also help boost Chatham County, according to Covington. The proximity of that and other highways and rail transportation is part of what’s drawing the interest of so many developers, including some with conservation in mind.

That list includes Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney of Cary and his conservation LLC, which just completed a purchase of 227 acres just southeast of Siler City for about $1.1 million. All told, Sweeney owns 16,000 acres in Chatham County, according to TBJ, which quoted Sweeney as saying that all of his land purchases in Chatham are part of a nature conservation project focused on the Rocky River and Bennett Flatwoods.

Covington said that while “it’s been kind of quiet through the years” in Chatham County — aside from Chatham Park’s massive, 7,000-acre development — it’s not quiet now, particularly with the growth of housing projects within the county.

Chatham is a “high growth corridor,” he said.

Bob Atkinson, who’s been brokering land in and around the region since the 1970s, said he’s been telling people that for 10 years — and adds another highway within Chatham will spur some of that growth.

“I’ve been saying that U.S. Hwy. 64 will also eventually ‘blow up’ between Cary and Charlotte,” he said.

Atkinson says interest from his customers — investors from New Jersey, Texas, California and even buyers from as far away as India — are keeping him as busy as he’s ever been.

“The people from the outside, they can see it,” he said. “It’s location, location, location. Get on Google Earth and look at Siler City, for example — there’s a fantatic road system. You have the megasites. It looks like the handwriting is on the wall.”

Would Covington consider additional land purchases in Chatham?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Always.”

COMING NEXT WEEK: a conversation with the EDC’s Michael Smith addressing what 2022 may hold for Chatham County.

Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or @billthethird.

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