Innovation Park booming after makeover
Lake Norman News
Lake Norman News ~ News of University City
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012

Innovation Park booming after makeover

Renovations, new tenants create energy at former IBM site

After $50 million in renovations, Innovation Park is unrecognizable.

“I’d say it looks like a whole new building – it’s a lot different,” said Marc Bellet, the vice president of construction for BECO South, the company that owns the complex. “It just feels more modern, it looks more modern, and it is more modern.”

The 200-acre complex of buildings was abandoned by IBM years ago, but property management company BECO South has breathed new life into it with renovations intended to make it a cutting-edge location for companies.

The company bought Innovation Park, off IBM Drive in University Research Park, in March 2010 for $42 million in cash.

When BECO bought the complex, just 37 percent of the nearly 2 million square feet was leased, said Mercedes Merritt, director of leasing for the company. Now, 80 percent of Innovation Park is leased.

Some of the park’s tenants include previous owner IBM, Aon Hewitt insurance services, Siemens Energy, nuclear power company Areva and University City Partners.

Wells Fargo and Axa Equitable have recently signed leases with BECO and will move in early next year, Merritt said. When those companies arrive about 4,000 people will work at Innovation Park, she estimated.

The park now has a 1,200-space parking garage, all-new interiors, safety upgrades, a fitness center and a bike-share program.

“We basically gutted the whole entire building and rebuilt it,” Bellet said.

The renovations caused University City Partners to move to another building in the park, but Executive Director Mary Hopper said she couldn’t be more pleased with the new space.

“We love it here,” Hopper said. “The people are so nice to deal with, and there’s an amenity level in here that you normally don’t get in a multi-tenant building. ... Sometimes we laugh and say, ‘Why are we going home?’ It’s just a fun place to work in.”

Much of the renovations are complete, although the spaces where Wells Fargo and Axa Equitable will move in are still under construction.

Merritt said BECO tried to model Innovation Park after Google’s campus, which is famous for its amenities, to create a “tenant experience.”

“That’s really great to have a shiny building downtown, but what does that really do for you at the end of the day?” she said. “Instead, we really wanted to put money into things that really pay back the tenants, like a gym and day care.”

A new bistro on campus has opened, and there are also to-go food options and an on-site farmers market.

Merritt said BECO has even hired a woman full-time to cater to tenants by running promotional events for the park like iPad giveaways and fitness challenges.

Hopper said she has enjoyed watching Innovation Park’s transformation and is looking forward to what the new year will bring.

“Everything they said they’d do, they’ve done,” she said, “and they’re still thinking up new things.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens

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