Source: The Herald Sun
Author: Ray GronbergCraig Jarvis

DURHAM - The Los Angeles company that owns a key piece of RTP is adding to its real-estate holdings along the Durham Freeway.

Parmer Innovation Centers announced Thursday that it's acquired the vacant Ellis Research Center at 2400 Ellis Road.

Going forward, the "office and life-science campus" will go by the name Parmer Ellis and undergo what the announcement termed "an extensive renovation to improve the building aesthetics and overhaul the buildings amenities."

The acquisition includes 360,000 square feet of building space and 94.2 acres of land. A deed recorded Thursday with Durham County confirmed that Parmer spent $8 million to buy the property from its previous owner, Texas-based Ellis DNC.

The purchase "was a logical fit for us," said Bart Olds, Parmer's head of asset management.

Parmer last June spent $110 million to buy the former GlaxoSmithKline complex, on the west side of the freeway between T.W. Alexander Drive and Ellis Road, and in November followed up by spending a further $6.5 million to secure an office complex at 14 T.W. Alexander Drive.

Those properties now go by the names Parmer RTP and Parmer 14, and between them contain nearly 2.1 million square feet of floor space. All of Parmer's holdings are easily accessible from the freeway's T.W. Alexander Drive or Ellis Road interchanges.

Research Triangle Park has come up again and again as a possibility for Amazon's second headquarters and Apple's fourth campus. Both are the subject of national site location searches. The Parmer complex, with its room to grow, would have the space for both of those giant.

Good news for the park

The Ellis Road complex "is very close to our current Parmer RTP property, and the expanse of land provides the opportunity to further expand on our already-planned amenities," Olds said. "This institutional-quality asset gives us additional potential for our Parmer RTP property as well."

Research Triangle Foundation President and CEO Scott Levitan saw the deal as good news for the park.

"It's tremendous that Parmer is willing to make the kind of investment they're making in the Triangle," Levitan said. "They've had some great leasing success in their original purchase. They're a great partner. They're collaborative and being creative about the campus. We're really pleased to have them here."

Parmer has landed Credit Suisse and LabCorp as tenants for the former GSK complex. Credit Suisse is there on a temporary basis, but LabCorp recently signed a 15-year deal to occupy about 220,000 square feet of the property.

What about Apple and Amazon?

Amazon has said that it would need at least 500,000 square feet and total site space of up to 8 million square feet for its second headquarters. It would like the site to be within 30 miles of a population center and within 45 minutes of an international airport. Apple has not provided such details.

The Parmer complex has been mentioned repeatedly as a potential site for both companies, particularly California-based Apple. That's, in part, because Parmer has a connection to Apple, as it leases office space to the company in Austin.

In a recent interview, The News & Observer asked Parmer director of asset management Bart Olds if that gives his company a leg up on the competition.

“We would love to be considered for the opportunity,” Olds said. “We don’t have any insight into that right now. We’re hearing the same rumors everyone else has.”

The six-building Parmer Business Park in Austin is fully leased to Apple and a few other firms, the Austin Business Journal reported. Austin is Apple’s largest facility outside of Silicon Valley. Its 38-acre complex on West Parmer Lane serves as the technology company’s North American operations center. Apple has about 6,500 employees there.

Officials from Amazon are said to have visited the Triangle a few weeks ago as they size up the 20 finalists for its HQ2 project.

Levitan didn't address the speculation about Amazon and Apple directly, and he noted that Parmer has worked to reshape the former GSK property as a "multiple tenant" complex that will capitalize on about $80 million in upgrades and new amenities.

"The more investment that gets made in existing properties in the park, the better we look to the world," Levitan said.

Olds doesn't rule out the possibility of more purchases nearby by Parmer.

"We will always be an opportunistic investor and developer," he said, repeating that statement when asked if the company is trying to position itself to land Amazon or Apple.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648@rcgronberg