Real Deals

Raleigh developer buys into Garner's Greenfield North

dbracken@newsobserver.comNovember 14, 2012 

For more than a year Raleigh developer Gregg Mason had an enviable problem. After selling off his assets in recent years, Mason was debt free and looking for the right real estate project to invest in.

“I had all my liquidity on the sidelines,” he said. “I was waiting for my opportunity.”

Mason finally found it in the Greenfield North Business Park in Garner. This week his company, Mason Properties, paid $4.6 million for 13 acres that includes the corporate headquarters of the turkey giant Butterball.

The deal is by far the largest of Mason’s career, and he hopes to turn the property into a cluster of office and shops in the 228-acre business park.

“I want to build a park within a park on that site,” he said.

That it took Mason a while to find an investment opportunity isn’t all that surprising. The arrival of so many large institutional investors in the Triangle has made it more difficult for small fish such as Mason to compete for deals. While Mason had cash on the sidelines, it paled in comparison to the dump trucks full of cash that real estate investment trust, insurance companies and others have at their disposal.

Mason thought he’d exhausted all avenues when Dave Finger, managing principal of the Raleigh office of Cassidy Turley, told him about the Butterball deal.

Finger was among a group of Cassidy Turley brokers who represented the group that sold Greenfield North to Duke Realty for $31 million last year. Cassidy Turley also represented Duke in its sale of the property to Mason.

Mason had two criteria by which he judged any potential deal: It had to have an existing, high-quality tenant already in place and the property had to include vacant land where future development could occur.

Butterball’s lease on its 26,000-square-foot building runs through 2023. The property also has room for three more buildings, one of which is where Butterball has the option to expand its operations in the future.

Duke, for its part, was interested in selling the only office building in Greenfield North. The park has about 369,000 square feet of warehouse space and 40 acres of developable land.

“This just allows us to keep it as a pure industrial play and focus on us developing out the remaining land that we have there for build-to-suits,” said Jeff Sheehan, a senior vice president with Duke in Morrisville.

The park’s industrial space is now 97 percent leased, and developing the vacant land could add 400,000 to 500,000 square feet of additional space, Sheehan said.

The further build out of Greenfield North will likely help with Mason’s efforts to develop the vacant land he now owns. The project also will allow him to make use of his other business: landscaping.

Mason, 44, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and got his start working for a lawn service company that his oldest brother started. He formed Masons’ Landscape Inc. in 1991 and moved the business to Raleigh in 1995. The company provides landscaping services for estate homes in the area.

Mason, who employs 8 people between his two companies, said he was in a position to do the Butterball deal largely because the property company has operated conservatively in the 10 years since it was formed. That meant doing selective commercial, residential and raw land deals with as little amount of debt as possible.

Mason developed a 20,000-square-foot building on ACC Boulevard in the Brier Creek area that he sold last year for $1.63 million. To finance the Butterball deal, Mason put down 20 percent of the purchase price and borrowed the rest from BB&T, according to property records.

With the Butterball deal finally closed, Mason is talking like a man who just won an election.

“I’ve got momentum, and I want to use that momentum in the best way forward,” he said.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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