Real Estate - Commercial

Marketing Document Calls Former PPD HQ A Rare, Mixed-use Redevelopment Opportunity

By Cece Nunn, posted Aug 22, 2022
The former PPD headquarters building at 929 N. Front St. and neighboring properties in downtown Wilmington have been offered for sale. (File photo)
Marketing materials provided to some professionals in the local commercial real estate industry provide a glimpse of what the future could hold for PPD's former headquarters building in downtown Wilmington.

Pharmaceutical firm Thermo Fisher Scientific, which purchased PPD in a $17.4-billion deal last year, announced in April that it was planning to explore opportunities to sell Wilmington’s tallest building, a 380,000-square-foot, 12-story structure at 929 N. Front St. that overlooks the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers.

On Aug. 19, a spokesman with Thermo Fisher's PPD division said there's "nothing new to report" currently about that effort. 

But marketing materials by real estate firm Jones Long Lasalle (JLL) shed some light on potential outcomes. The 14-page document's cover calls the Thermo Fisher Scientific building a "mixed-use redevelopment opportunity."

"This rare opportunity is offered in whole or in part, with the Seller accepting offers on the individual land sites and the office building separately or together," the document states. JLL, which has offices in Raleigh and Charlotte, did not include a listing price in the document obtained by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

"JLL has been retained as the exclusive sales representative for the Thermo Fisher Scientific Building and Adjacent Development Sites (the 'Properties'), a premier, Class A office building with 7.8 acres of development opportunity located in Wilmington, North Carolina. ... Adjacent to the Live Nations Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park, the Thermo Fisher Scientific Building and two unique in-fill land redevelopment opportunities are ideally located one block from the explosive Downtown Wilmington Riverwalk corridor.

"The development opportunities sit on either side of the existing Thermo Fisher Scientific Building."

The JLL packet states that one of the development opportunities is a 3.2-acre vacant parcel along the northern side of the building "featuring perpetually unobstructed views of the Cape Fear River. The second development opportunity is a +/-4.6-acre surface parking lot located along the southern side of the existing Thermo Fisher Scientific Building. The sites are currently entitled central business district, allowing for vast by-right development optionality and up to 240' of vertical development."

The surface lot holds 246 spaces. "Once removed, the Thermo Fisher Scientific Building will continue to be well served by the 1,022 (2.75/1,000) remaining spaces in the adjacent parking deck and subterrain parking structure, or a developer could implement shared parking at an adjacent development," the document states.

JLL highlights Wilmington's population growth (more than 26% since 2010) and its transportation features, including the Port of Wilmington, Wilmington International Airport and Interstate 40, U.S. 74 and U.S. 17.

While the JLL document does not mention a potential housing component specifically as a part of any future redevelopment, other than using the term "mixed-use," it does discuss the area's current office market. 

"The opportunity to acquire an office asset in Wilmington has become difficult with high barriers to entry and limited available supply," the document states. "The Thermo Fisher Scientific Building offers investors the opportunity to purchase a premier office building well below replacement cost."

Meanwhile, officials with Thermo Fisher said in April that they want new digs, with most of its 1,700 employees in Wilmington preferring a hybrid remote-working mode.

David Johnston, Thermo Fisher’s senior vice president and president of clinical research, said in a release in April, “We have been proud of our Wilmington building since it opened in 2007 and, as we consider the evolving needs of our workforce and business, we believe this is the right time to establish a new location to serve our colleagues, customers and visitors."
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