Panel OKs nomination of R.J. Reynolds building for registry

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The Reynolds building in Winston-Salem.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. headquarters has received the first key approval in the company’s effort to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Forsyth County Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved the request that it nominate the 22-story building for the registry. The building has served as downtown Winston-Salem’s architectural signature for 85 years.

City Manager Lee Garrity said Thursday that the next step is a presentation before the Winston-Salem City Council’s finance committee on June 9, followed by the council’s general government committee June 10. If those steps are cleared, the council could give final approval at its June 16 meeting.

Gaining the commission’s blessing is an early, but pivotal, step in the historic registry process.

The approval also could signify new momentum on the potential sale of the building, which has been on the market since November 2009. The 313,996-square-foot building is valued at $12.3 million, according to Forsyth County tax records.

Greensboro developer Dennis Quaintance conducted several months’ worth of due diligence in 2012 before passing on a potential luxury hotel project. He said that current room rates and demand were not strong enough to justify spending tens of millions of dollars on buying and renovating the building.

Reynolds American Inc. hired CBRE as its marketing agent in March 2013.

Greg Wilson, executive vice president for the Triad CBRE office, said in March 2013 that the marketing will begin with a $15 million asking price and the building will be pitched to local, regional and national investors. He said the goal was a mixed-use project with retail on the ground floor and an undefined mixture of office and residential on the others.

Reynolds spokesman David Howard said he could not comment on projects under consideration. He said listing the building on the national registry “can certainly help CBRE in marketing the building to prospective buyers.”

The nomination for the national registry was forwarded to the N.C. Historic Preservation Office on April 9.

Mayor Allen Joines has said that the repurposing of the building “is one of the top priorities for this community.”

If the state historic preservation officer officially nominates the property, materials are sent to the keeper of the National Register at the National Park Service in Washington for a final decision.

Receiving the historic register certification would be a significant financial carrot to entice potential developers.

According to the N.C. General Statutes, there is an overall 30 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating income-producing historic structures in a county such as Forsyth. Also available is a 20 percent federal investment tax credit.

A recent local example of the attractiveness of historic tax credits is U.S. Bank investing up to $18 million and Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. investing up to $16 million toward the $100 million cost of building Wake Forest BioTech Place.

The decision to apply for the national registry now also could be spurred by the potential end of the state historic preservation tax credit at the end of the year.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014-15 would include a historic preservation investment program that could cost the state less in taxes than the current program.

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