Demolition planned soon for massive former Philip Morris manufacturing site

The former Philip Morris plant on US 29 in Concord will be demolished over the course of the year, starting in the next month.
The former Philip Morris plant on US 29 in Concord will be demolished over the course of the year, starting in the next month. Observer file photo

Demolition of what was once a manufacturing and economic mainstay for the Charlotte region, the former Philip Morris cigarette plant, is slated to begin in the next 30 days, Charlotte investment firm Bootsmead LeaseCo LLC announced Wednesday.

The facility covers 3.5 million square feet and approximately 500 acres in Concord. Bootsmead LeaseCo said it will take the entire year to complete the demolition.

The property is now known as The Grounds at Concord. The site owners, working with state and local officials, agreed to bulldoze the property and turn it into one of several mega sites statewide to market for economic development. The cost of the demolition has not been publicly disclosed.

We see this property as being the employment epicenter of Concord and Cabarrus County,” said Robert Carney, executive director of Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation.

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The Philip Morris plant opened in 1983. Philip Morris’ parent company announced plans in 2007 to shutter the massive plant and consolidate work in Virginia, a move impacting all 2,500 workers in Concord, The Observer reported at the time. Production on what was once one of the region’s largest factories ended in 2009.

After Philip Morris closed, the plant was used for filming scenes for the first “Hunger Games” movie and the Showtime series “Homeland.”

But with the loss of the plant, the county also lost its largest taxpayer. The company paid $11.4 million in city and county taxes in 2008, the Observer reported at the time.

Swiss battery company Alevo Group SA took over the site in 2014 promising hundreds of jobs, the Observer has reported. In 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper praised the company for its commitment to create more than 200 jobs in Concord in exchange for over $2.6 million in tax incentives over 12 years, the Observer reported at the time.

But there were problems with production and hiring, and Alevo’s two U.S. companies filed for bankruptcy in 2017, laying off 290 workers, the Observer reported at the time.

“You never want to take a gamble on your mega site with a company that’s not a Fortune 1000 company,” said Keith Tunnell, president of South Carolina-based Vision economic development consulting.

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The next phase

This time around, Carney said local leaders are focusing on recruiting advanced, high-paying manufacturing jobs.

“In our next phase moving forward (we) want someone that was a well-established brand, a well-established market, and not a company that is more towards the start-up,” Carney said.

Carney said the facility was difficult to sell, because it was built for a specific industry.

“It became almost a hurdle for a lot of project opportunities,” he said.

Local leaders are looking at the new project as an opportunity to generate tax revenue, according to Carney.

Concord Mayor Bill Dusch said the size, existing utilities and proximity to two major highways help make the site competitive.

That’s probably one of the largest industrial sites in the Southeast with all the required utilities already in place,” he said.