Reynolds finalizes donation of Whitaker Park
Photo by Tevin Stinson
Redevelopment of manufacturing plant expected to create 10,000 jobs
BY TEVIN STINSON
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. announced last Thursday that they have finalized the deal that would donate Whitaker Park to a local redevelopment group that plans to use the old manufacturing plant for economic development in North Winston-Salem.
During a press conference held outside the plant on Reynolds Blvd., President and Chief Commercial Officer Joseph Fragnito handed over the keys to the plant and 12 other surrounding buildings totaling 1.7 million square feet, to the Whitaker Park Development Authority (WPDA), a group created by Winston-Salem Business Inc., the Winston-Salem Alliance, and Wake Forest University. The announcement comes two years after RJR donated a 70,000 square foot laboratory building to the redevelopment group in January of 2015.
“We’re pleased to honor our commitment made two years ago to this community by completing a donation that we believe will have a significant impact in transforming Winston-Salem for many years to come,” said Fragnito. “It is our sincere hope that these properties will be an engine for economic development and will attract more jobs and opportunity to this area. Yet another example of our commitment to supporting the communities where our employees live and work.” Named in honor of John C. Whitaker a former chairman of RJR, the Whitaker Park manufacturing plant opened in 1961. Designed by R.J. Reynolds’ engineering department and constructed by employees, it was the world’s largest and most modern cigarette plant at the time. At its height of production, the plant employed more than 2,000 workers.
After receiving the keys from Fragnito, WPDA chairman Don Flow said just like the plant provided jobs and opportunities for people in the community the goal of the redevelopment will be the same. Upon completion, the multi-use area that will target manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution companies is expected to create between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs.
Retail and residential spaced are also expected to be added to the plans as well.
“This highly collaborative effort reflects what can happen if we come together as a community to invest in our city and create a thriving future. The repurposing of Whitaker Park accelerates the renewal and revitalization of our community,” said Flow. “Just like innovation quarter which also founds its history in Reynolds and their extraordinary generosity we now stand at the same place with Whitaker Park.
“Just like this plant created jobs for past generations we’re about to do the same thing for the next generation. Our vision is to create a vibrant development that everyone can come by and be excited about.”
In coming months Bob Leak Jr., president of Winston-Salem Business will make an official announcement on what’s next for the old tobacco plant. When asked about residential areas that already exist near the plant, Leak told The Chronicle that he doesn’t expect redevelopment to have any negative impact on home owners or anyone else who lives in the area.
City Councilwoman and representative for the North Ward Denise Adams who worked at Whitaker Park as a tour guide said she was excited to see what the future holds for the plant and surrounding areas.
“I worked in this very building for three summers during my college years so I remember the vibrancy of this area. There were commercial operations, small businesses, and even restaurants; this was almost as busy as downtown at one point,” said Adams. “What we’re hoping to see is that come back, we’ve done downtown but now we need to start spreading out into the communities that were once just as vibrant as downtown.”