Mystery buyer purchases more than 200 acres in Research Triangle Park

Research Triangle Foundation

More than 200 undeveloped acres in Research Triangle Park have been bought for nearly $50 million, according to Wake County property records.

But available information is scarce about the buyer, Acute Investments LLC.

The large plot of land — located off Louis Stephens and Little drives near the campus of Cisco Systems on the Wake County side of RTP — had been controlled by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and the Research Triangle Foundation.

Tech giant Apple considered the property earlier in 2018 as a site for a possible expansion, The News & Observer reported in May. In early December, however, Apple bypassed the Triangle for a major expansion and instead announced it would add thousands of new employees near Austin, Texas, a city where it already has a significant presence.

On a deed for the sale, Acute Investments’ address is listed as the Raleigh law firm Parker Poe and one of its lawyers, R. Bruce Thompson. Thompson is a registered lobbyist for Apple and Daimler Trucks, among other companies, according to the North Carolina secretary of state’s website.

In an email, Thompson said he didn’t have any comment on the sale.

The sale, which occurred on Dec. 21, according to the deed, was first reported by the Triangle Business Journal. Acute Investments purchased 123 acres from the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund for around $32 million, and the Research Triangle Foundation sold around 100 acres for $17.6 million, according to Wake County records.

Scott Levitan, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, the nonprofit entity that manages and markets Research Triangle Park, declined to comment about Acute Investments’ purchase. RTP straddles Durham and Wake counties, though most of the park’s remaining undeveloped land is located on the Wake County side.

According to an agreement signed between RTF and the buyer, Acute Investments has 10 years to begin construction on the property instead of the standard four years that the park requires, according to Wake County records.

Acute would also have four years to complete construction on the property once that starts, rather than the standard two years under the park’s covenants — all of which are timelines that can result in the foundation fining Acute or buying back the property, according to the county records.

Speculation about Apple’s interest in the Triangle hasn’t gone away since the California-based firm chose to build another campus in Austin — thanks in part to Gov. Roy Cooper’s repeated statements that North Carolina is still in negotiations with the company. Efforts to reach Apple for this article were not immediately successful.

In Apple’s news release about its expansion in Austin, the company said there was the “potential for additional expansion elsewhere in the US over time.” And on multiple occasions, Cooper said he wouldn’t comment about Apple’s decision to go to Texas because the state was in an “open recruiting situation” with Apple that could potentially yield more employment.

Neither Wake County nor the state’s Commerce Department has yet fulfilled a request for records on the recruitment of Apple or given a time frame for releasing the documents. Records are usually released after a project has been publicly announced or is no longer active.

Commerce hasn’t responded to a question about whether the project remains active. On Monday, David Rhoades, a spokesman for Commerce, said in an email that the state doesn’t currently have a time frame for when it will release records relating to Apple.

“We do have a number of records requests in queue for this particular project, and we will certainly produce them at the appropriate time, but we do not know when that time will be,” Rhoades said.

Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.