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Long-dormant Philip Morris plant in Concord sold, but plans for site unclear

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/11/11/36/4K1bJ.Em.138.JPG|200
    DAVIE HINSHAW - DAVIE HINSHAW
    The Philip Morris plant in Concord has been sold to a developer. 2004 FILE PHOTO - DAVIE HINSHAW
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/11/17/44/jzRB1.Em.138.jpeg|177
    JEFF SINER -
    Philip Morris has sold the Concord cigarette plant that it closed in 2009, but the buyer’s plans for a massive property that once provided 2,500 jobs and a big chunk of the city’s tax base are still unclear.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/04/11/21/10/Ft6O4.Em.138.jpeg|332
    -

Philip Morris has sold the Concord cigarette plant that it closed in 2009, but the buyer’s plans for a massive property that once provided 2,500 jobs and a big chunk of the city’s tax base are still unclear.

The purchaser, a company called Victory Industrial Park LLC, plans to focus on the clean-energy sector and make use of a major data pipeline at the location, said Julian Tanner, a spokesman for Victory. But the company doesn’t plan to disclose more details for a few months, he said.

A Norwegian businessman named Jostein Eikeland is involved in the project, Tanner said. On his website, Eikeland calls himself “a visionary serial entrepreneur” who has participated in multiple business sectors, including technology, automotive, energy storage and environmental.

Concord and Cabarrus County officials have been anxious about the future of the site since Altria, Philip Morris’ Richmond, Va.-based parent company, announced plans to close the plant in 2007. The 2,100-acre campus, which straddles U.S. 29, features 3.5 million square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space.

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett said Altria told him this week that the property had been sold, but he has no details on what will replace the cigarette factory. Victory Industrial Park bought the site for $68.5 million, according to county records.

“I have every reason to think it’s good news,” Padgett said. “We’ve been stuck in neutral the last five years since Philip Morris closed.”

Citing a decline in cigarette sales, Altria in June 2007 said it would consolidate Concord operations with those in Richmond, and it shut down operations in 2009.

The property has been on the market for years, but Altria had not been able to find a buyer. A Georgia entertainment company floated a plan to remake the site with a movie studio and other projects, but it never came to fruition.

Victory Industrial Park, which closed on the property on Wednesday, first filed incorporation papers in North Carolina in June 2013 using a business address in Boca Raton, Fla., according to N.C. Secretary of State Department records.

Eikeland, listed as chairman, and Scott Schotter, as executive director, are also involved in a business called Victory Truck & Bus Co. in Boca Raton that uses the same address, according to Florida records. Tanner, the Victory spokesman, said he doesn’t believe the company will be involved with the Concord project.

Eikeland did not return a call seeking comment. Schotter could not be reached.

On his website, Eikeland says he is known as the “Cloudfather” for coining the phrase “Application Service Provider,” which is related to cloud computing that allows users to access software through the Internet. His first public company launched in January 1997 and was the first to bundle software products that could be used simultaneously by multiple users, according to the site.

Eikeland’s focus is now “energy conservation and reversing climate change and accomplishing it in our time,” his website states.

Closing was blow to Concord

The closure of the Philip Morris site was a major blow to Concord and Cabarrus County, which borders Mecklenburg County to the northeast. In 2009, the plant represented 11 percent of Concord’s tax base, but the percentage had been nearly triple that years earlier.

The shutdown came about four years after textile giant Pillowtex closed, wiping out more than 4,000 jobs in Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the state’s largest mass layoff.

In a positive, Cabarrus landed a $1.5 billion biotech complex that is being developed at the old Pillowtex site. Cabarrus had a 5.9 percent unemployment rate in February, down 2.8 points from a year earlier.

The Philip Morris campus made news in recent years as a site where production teams from the first “Hunger Games” movie and the Showtime television series “Homeland” temporarily set up shop.

Padgett, the Concord mayor, said the sale of the property was slowed by the recession, the massive size of the property and Philip Morris’ desire to sell it in one piece. After the closure, Concord downsized its budget and laid off employees.

The city has made progress in bringing in new manufacturers and distribution companies, but it hasn’t yet replaced the Philip Morris jobs, which came with good pay and benefits, he said.

“It’s certainly not just about the tax base,” Padgett said. “The most important thing is jobs. The stability for families is the most important thing.”

Rothacker: 704-358-5170; Twitter: @rickrothacker
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