Nearly 15 years ago, a family trust in California purchased 1,100 acres about 25 miles southwest of Raleigh hoping to attract a company that wants to build something big on the edge of one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country.
Today, the site has doubled in size to 2,285 acres and is nearly ready to be developed. The property owners and local officials hope the so-called megasite will attract an automotive, aviation or other large manufacturer to give the region, particularly Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties, an economic boost.
The Moncure Megasite lies near the intersection of Old U.S. 1 and U.S. 1, near the convergence of Wake, Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties, and sprawls from Harris Lake and the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant almost to the Cape Fear River.
The property contains a 420-acre industrial site, where Performance Fibers once made industrial fabrics before the plant closed in 2014 and the land was cleared. The rest of the site is undeveloped.
“This site is suitable for a large tenant or several tenants,” said Kyle Touchstone, president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit that supports business in the county. “Ultimately, we are hopeful we will attract one large user that will bring suppliers.”
Project representatives and county officials believe this large user could create thousands of jobs and speed up residential development in surrounding areas.
“Its access is unparalleled,” said Raleigh developer Steve Stroud, who is representing the property owner. “It has incredible access not only to rail and air but also highway infrastructure, which connects it directly to three major interstates.”
Stroud expects the state to certify the megasite within six months, making it the fourth state-certified site in North Carolina. The other three are in Liberty, Rocky Mount and Siler City in western Chatham County.
The state certification process requires numerous studies, which provides more certainty for companies and makes the site more appealing.
“Companies are often making decisions on a location on a tight time frame,” said Adrienne Cole, executive director for Wake County Economic Development. “They are trying to mitigate risk, so a site that is shovel ready – certified – they’ve answered a lot of the questions about the site. And if it’s got infrastructure run to it, you are decreasing your development time and you are decreasing the risk associated with that site.”
Attracting a major manufacturer
In 2014, site selection consultants McCallum Sweeney evaluated the Moncure Megasite as part of the Duke Energy Site Readiness Program and identified aviation, automotive and plastics manufacturing as good fits.
But Stroud said the megasite is more than big enough for any manufacturing company in the country.
“Most of the consultants who have reviewed all of the sites in the Southeast think this is the number one site for a major manufacturing facility,” Stroud said.
Other benefits of the site include being the only megasite in the Southeast with access to two rail lines – CSX and Norfolk Southern – as well as proximity to the Triangle’s universities. The site is three miles from the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Lee County and 20 miles from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
The site also won’t need much prep work because the area is fairly level. “The cost of grading probably is the least expensive of any site in the Southeast,” Stroud said.
The only thing the site lacks in order to be certified is access to wastewater treatment, but that is on the way.
In December, the City of Sanford received a $4 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to help extend a sewer line to the Raleigh Executive Jetport, Moncure and the megasite.
Chatham County’s 1,800-acre advanced manufacturing megasite northwest of Siler City is still missing some infrastructure, too, including a water and sewer connection, but the town also received a $4 million grant to pay for it.
“I can’t project which (Chatham) site will be ready first, but it is a goal of both developers to have their sites as ready as possible to meet the needs of potential tenants,” Touchstone said. “If one site is successful, the other will be successful as well. We will become the advanced manufacturing hub of North Carolina.”
With local officials estimating that a least 1,000 people, from as far away as Charlotte and Greensboro, would work at the Moncure Megasite, residential developers are taking notice.
Only a few miles up Moncure Pittsboro Road is 7,000-acre Chatham Park, which one day is expected to be home to 60,000 people. Touchstone expects development of the megasite will accelerate the development of Chatham Park.
While the megasite is in southeastern Chatham County, it is expected to bring new jobs and residents to the surrounding counties as well, particularly those beyond Wake that aren’t growing as fast as the Triangle.
“Any major facility that would utilize this kind of acreage should have substantial, spin-off manufacturing facilities that would be supplier plants and should offer lots of opportunities for Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties,” Stroud said.
Lee County’s Central Carolina Enterprise Park, which is a little more than five miles from the megasite, is one of those properties that is expected to benefit when suppliers need to locate nearby.
Cole said she expects a major manufacturer attracted to the site could serve as a magnet for additional companies “that might be in a similar cluster.”
This spin-off potential is why a multi-county initiative to market the site and surrounding counties is in the works.
“I really believe Chatham County and the surrounding counties and municipalities will be heavily impacted,” Touchstone said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon