Developers plan massive project in Apex

Veridia, a multi-use, ecologically friendly project, could double town's tax base.

staff writerJune 5, 2009 

— Plans for a massive real estate project -- one that, if realized, would more than double the tax base of this western Wake County town -- were revealed by developers and town officials Thursday.

Zebulon developer Tom Hendrickson submitted a request this week to approve his effort to build up to 10 million square feet of offices, 3.5 million square feet of shops, 2 million square feet of manufacturing space and 8,000 homes.

He hopes this 1,015-acre project, called Veridea, will become "the next-generation version of the world-renowned Research Triangle Park."

If successful, the project could add 20,000 residents and create more than 30,000 jobs, town officials said.

It won't happen overnight. The project is expected to take 10 to 15 years to complete, perhaps longer if the economy takes longer than expected to rebound.

To get started, the proposal must endure the town's planning approval process, a journey that may spill into next year. Given the size of the project, the town's planning regulations are likely to be tested. At a news conference in Town Hall, Mayor Keith Weatherly said the project would get a hard look. At the same time, he was quick to point out potential benefits of the project, which is bounded by U.S. 1, N.C. 55 and a future stretch of Interstate 540.

If built as proposed, Veridea would create $6 billion in additional tax revenue.

"That's billion, with a B," Weatherly said.

Because much of it would come from commercial property, Apex homeowners could get some tax relief. Homeowners account for about 75 percent of the town's current $4.2 billion tax base. With Veridea in place, homeowners would account for about 60 percent. But that's if it's approved, Weatherly stressed. "If, if, if, if."

Hendrickson has spent two years and at least $70 million assembling the site. His group still needs to close on 259 acres it has under contract, at a time when new loans for such acquisitions are hard to come by and maturing loans are harder to refinance.

Hendrickson declined to offer details about debt related to the project. But said he was confident that he and his partners would be able to withstand the credit crunch.

Lending would still have to ease before much of the project is built.

Still, Hendrickson hopes to get plans approved quickly, so that he can begin work on $60 million in roads and other infrastructure work. He hopes to wrap that up in 2011. By then, he hopes, the economy will be on the rise, offering demand for new homes and commercial space.

"Don't judge a farmer based on what you see coming out of the crop field in December," Hendrickson said. "That's when he's doing his preparation. I would be scared to death if the market was red hot today."

The project will allow town planners to take a broad view of growth over one large swath of land, rather than watching a part of Apex grow in piecemeal projects.

Hendrickson wants the project to be a nationally recognized leader in eco-friendly design, emphasizing walkability, high-density buildings, open space and alternative energy. Hendrickson said he hopes to use the sun, and perhaps methane gas from a nearby landfill, to power the project.

Veridea would also give economic developers something to market to the companies that they hope to lure to the Triangle. That's important, especially as many of the Triangle's major commerce centers, including the 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park, run out of land that can be developed. RTP now controls less than 900 acres.

With Veridea, which is less than 15 miles from RTP, Hendrickson is banking on overflow, while improving on the park's suburban model.

In recent years, as population, traffic and gas prices have increased, more companies have sought campuses closer to homes, services, restaurants and shops. Having an abundance of those things could help seal a deal.

"Veridea appears to be just what many companies will be looking for the in the future," Ken Atkins, executive director of Wake county Economic Development, said in a statement. "... From an economic developer's perspective, the plans for Apex announced this week are very, very exciting."

jack.hagel@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8917

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