Monday, December 4, 2023

NC trend: Congdon family spurs High Point innovation

High Point’s enterprising Congdon family pushes to enliven the furniture city with an innovative downtown project. 

High Point is known for its significant role in North Carolina’s furniture history, serving as a national epicenter of both manufacturing and marketing. The markets that occur twice a year attract tens of thousands of designers and retailers from across the world, while exhibition space for showcasing furniture dominates the city’s downtown area.

But High Point’s center city is often hushed during the 11 months or so when furniture markets aren’t in session, and many key furniture and textile manufacturers have moved operations overseas or closed.

Congdon Yards — formerly a 1920s-era factory owned by now-defunct hosiery maker Adams-Millis Corp. — is remedying the silence, helping revitalize the city’s downtown in a project spearheaded by one of its most famous families. About $40 million in funding has come from the Earl and Kathryn Congdon Family Foundation, which provides grants to area businesses. 

“Our bottom-line goals for this project are downtown revitalization, feet on the street 365 days a year, and a sense of ‘place’ to design, innovate, collaborate, celebrate, and enjoy excellent dining and fun,” says David Congdon, who leads the foundation formed in 2015. It had net assets of about $45 million at the end of 2019, according to the most recent tax filing. “One of our goals as a new organization was to develop an innovative project around entrepreneurship, a business incubator, co-working and a maker space.” 

Congdon is the board chairman and former CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line, a publicly traded, Thomasville–based trucking company that was started by his father, Earl, in 1934. Old Dominion’s annual revenue has tripled over the past decade to more than $4.5 billion. The company had a market value of about $41 billion in mid-November, making it among the state’s 10 most valuable public companies.

▲ High Point wants Congdon Yards to be a downtown catalyst.

Along with the adjacent Truist Point ballpark that hosts the minor-league High Point Rockers, Congdon Yards aims to draw more year-round traffic to the area. The site includes a 94,931-square-foot mixed-use space named Plant Seven, offering office and communal gathering spaces. The Congdon Event Center will be added in the near future as part of Congdon Yards, which is overseen by Business High Point – Chamber of Commerce.

The project has morphed well beyond the original vision of the local chamber, Congdon says. He’s excited about the nearly completed Plant Seven project, while noting that adjacent The Factory building is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2022. Interior designers Barbour Spangle, fabric maker Culp, and the Change Often consulting firm led by High Point City Counselor Cyril Jefferson are among Congdon Yards’ first tenants.

“When all the tenant upfits are complete by year end, we will have around 250 people working in [Plant Seven] alone, not to mention all the people who come and go to utilize and enjoy the Commons and the Generator facility,” Congdon says. “The upfits to The Factory building will double the indoor space available for the Lofts event center, add two restaurants, an additional passenger elevator, a new central interior stairway connecting all four floors, and a gorgeous patio and distillery on the Elm Street side.”

The contractor for Congdon Yards is Landmark Builders, a Winston-Salem company. High Point–based Barbour Spangle Design is leading Congdon Yards’ interior design. Louis Cherry Architecture in Raleigh is the principal architect. Cherry’s experience renovating older buildings and building community centers sealed his selection for the project.

“The High Point business community and the political leadership have been focused on creating districts and uses that are year-round and providing a more robust civic life in High Point for people who are there all year,” Cherry says. High Point University and the furniture market “are the two big economic forces in High Point. This is part of a much bigger vision of creating essentially a new downtown district.” ■

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