Tech company finds home in Raleigh’s old Nehi building

Tech company finds a home in Raleigh's Nehi building

Listen to Chris Atkinson, CEO of KnowledgeTree, talk about his company's move to the Raleigh Nehi Bottling Company building on Hillsborough Street. Video by Alex Tricoli/
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Listen to Chris Atkinson, CEO of KnowledgeTree, talk about his company's move to the Raleigh Nehi Bottling Company building on Hillsborough Street. Video by Alex Tricoli/

James A. Goodnight restored the old Raleigh Nehi Bottling Company building on Hillsborough Street with the idea of leasing it to a high-tech company.

Now he’s found one.

KnowledgeTree, the 25-person software firm that uses data to help companies improve their sales pitches to customers, has moved into the building known best for the large Royal Crown Cola mural on its side.

In the big open room where soda was once loaded on to trucks, KnowledgeTree’s sales and marketing team works a few steps away from the product developers – just the environment the company was looking for, said CEO Chris Atkinson.

“We wanted to create and foster a culture where you’re able to share your ideas,” Atkinson said.

KnowledgeTree signed a 5-year lease, which Atkinson said is long for a small, growing tech firm. But there’s plenty of room to grow in the old bottling plant, and the company thinks the building’s character and its location on Hillsborough Street, near N.C. State University’s well-regarded data science program, will help.

“As soon as a customer or a prospective employee walks in here, it’s unspoken,” Atkinson said. “It provides us a tremendous advantage in recruiting the absolute top talent in the Triangle.”

The Nehi building was completed in 1938, an early example of the stripped-down International style that would flourish in Raleigh with the rise of the design department at NCSU. It became a city landmark in 2010, both for its pioneering architecture and for the architect who designed it, William Henley Deitrick, who left several important buildings around the city.

Architect William Henley Deitrick’s work in Raleigh includes Broughton High School, Jones Hall at Meredith College and Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, which he finished after the death of the original designer, Matthew Nowicki.

The building had been vacant for years when Goodnight bought it in June 2013. The Royal Crown Cola mural had been painted over, and many of the windows were either bricked up or broken and covered with plywood.

“It was a dark, damp cave,” Goodnight said, standing under one of the new skylights that, along with the restored windows, lets light pour into the building.

Goodnight says the renovation was completed last September and that he could have filled the space sooner if he was willing to subdivide it. But he wanted a single tenant for the 10,600-square-foot building to take advantage of its open spaces.

“It’s just a great building,” he said. “It would be awful to break it up.”

KnowledgeTree had been leasing space in 510 Glenwood, in the busy Glenwood South district, so its employees are used to having bars and restaurants nearby. This end of Hillsborough Street isn’t nearly as busy but has its charms, including the Subconscious sub shop across the street, where manager Dennis Hernandez is happy to have new neighbors.

“Who wants an empty location?” Hernandez said. “It’s great to have people there. Good for business.”

From the outside, there’s little to indicate that KnowledgeTree has moved into the building. When he restored Nehi Bottling Company’s name to the facade, Goodnight left a spot where a future tenant could affix its name, too.

But Atkinson said the company isn’t in a rush.

“It’s Nehi,” he said. “We’re not anxious to change the exterior of the building.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739


Fringe benefit

How do you know you work for a hip company? For starters, there’s a Kegerator in the kitchen.

At KnowledgeTree, that would be a cold keg of Hell Yes Ma’am Belgian-style pale ale, from Raleigh Brewing Company down the street. There’s no firm company policy on when employees can draw a beer, said CEO Chris Atkinson.

“We’d probably frown on anything before 5 p.m.,” he said. “But there are no hard and fast rules yet.”