There's no doubt the $1.5 billion North Carolina Research Campus that Castle & Cooke is building in Kannapolis will be a Next Big Thing for the city and the region.
But creating a biotech hub focusing on health and nutrition is only one piece of what the development company – owned by billionaire David Murdock, also the owner of Dole Foods – has in mind.
Shops, restaurants, townhomes, apartments and a hotel eventually are expected to join the planned 1 million square feet of offices and labs in downtown Kannapolis.
And Murdock's vision doesn't stop there. Another project about two miles from the campus is unfolding as a Next Big Thing in Kannapolis residential development.
The first houses – $895,000 to $1.3 million – are under construction in Irish Creek, a 650-acre, 580-lot community Castle & Cooke is developing around 400-acre Kannapolis Lake.
“We have seen an uptick in higher-end million-dollar range houses, but nothing that big,” said Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg. “I think we will continue to see a mixture of housing, but this could capture the bulk of the higher-end market for the next decade or so.”
Castle & Cooke believes the estimated $500 million development will take about eight years to complete.
It's difficult to figure exact economic impact, Legg said, because part of Irish Creek – including the first phase – is in the town of Landis and part is in the city of Kannapolis.
“We are working on some joint service agreements,” he said.
Even so, Legg said, “Irish Creek certainly can be considered economic development, because the tax revenues on a house in that price range will be more than our expense of serving it.”
The centerpiece of the community is The Club at Irish Creek, Castle & Cooke's redevelopment of the former Kannapolis Country Club golf course.
The 18-hole facility, designed by pro golfer Davis Love III, reopened last October, and the original clubhouse, now operating as a grill room, is scheduled to undergo extensive renovation.
With the golf course community, Castle & Cooke can ensure that officers and executives working at the research campus will be able to find upper-end homes without having to venture outside the Kannapolis area.
The developers also expect to attract buyers from Charlotte – only 30 miles away – and other parts of the region.
“The location is a very beautiful setting – I don't think there is anything in the region more attractive,” Legg said.
Murdock owns the private lake, and Kannapolis supplies the city's water from it through a 99-year lease on the water rights.
At Irish Creek, streets have been installed, work has started on entrance monuments and the first three houses, about 4,100 to about 5,600 square feet, are under construction.
Seven custom builders will build houses on half-acre to 1.5-acre lots on speculation to make sure inventory is for sale in Irish Creek at all times.
The initial homes are for sale and expected to be ready for occupancy late this year or early next year. An on-site sales office is to open next month.
Golf- and lake-view houses are being built in the first phase. In later phases, builders will price homes from the high $600,000s to more than $1.5 million.
An architectural and landscape board will review Irish Creek's residential exteriors and landscaping for approval.
Castle & Cooke said houses will feature interpretations of traditional architectural styles seen in Charlotte's Myers Park neighborhood and in traditional Southern towns.
Picking up on Murdock's health theme for the research campus, Irish Creek will have a new pool, tennis courts, exercise facilities and a family-activities center focused on health and wellness. Homebuyers automatically become members.
As part of the project, Castle & Cooke plans a greenway that eventually is expected to connect with a greenway in Concord.
A later phase of about 150 townhomes also is anticipated, but Irish Creek's Greg Inggs, director of sales and marketing, said that project is yet to be finalized.
Back at the research campus, the first three buildings, including the 311,000-square-foot Core Lab, are to open by fall.
The project is a collaboration with several universities, including UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, UNC Charlotte and N.C. State University. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will also be represented there.
The campus is on the 350-acre site of the old Cannon Mills complex, which threw more than 4,000 people out of work in Cabarrus and Rowan counties when the most recent former owner, Pillowtex, abruptly shut it down about five years ago.
The new development replacing the mill is expected to generate jobs. A report prepared for the city estimated employment there could reach 5,035 by 2013.
Castle & Cooke's plans for the campus include stores and services in a 320,000-to-330,000-square-foot commercial phase to serve the anticipated influx of people.
Inggs said construction likely won't start on those buildings for another two or three years.
Castle & Cooke's immediate goal is to attract more small retailers – an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a sandwich shop, for example – to downtown to serve visitors and early arrivals to the campus, he said.
“We are working with them to find some solutions,” Legg said.