One of R.J. Reynolds' most famous tobacco factories will soon have a new owner. Developers plan to use the site to create more jobs in Winston-Salem.

The Whitaker Park manufacturing plant was once a gleaming gem of industrialization that employed thousands of people. The building opened in 1961, and was the world's most modern cigarette plant at the time.

Now the vacant building could soon be bustling once again. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company announced Wednesday it's agreed to donate Whitaker Park, and certain surrounding buildings to a local redevelopment group called WPDA, or Whitaker Park Development Authority. The nonprofit corporation was created by Winston-Salem Business Inc., Wake Forest University, and the Winston-Salem Alliance.

Mayor Allen Joines, who is also president of the Alliance, says the goal is to bring the empty building back to a thriving work place. “We can create upwards of 15,000 new jobs in this Whitaker Park area over the next 15 plus years.”

R.J. Reynolds says it will begin the donation process with a laboratory building early this year.

“We're pleased that a local group has stepped forward and committed resources towards repurposing this great and historic plant and its surrounding properties,” says Mark A. Peters, senior vice president and chief financial officer of R.J. Reynolds. “We're confident these properties will play a key role in the economic development and transformational growth of Winston-Salem and the greater Triad region.”

Bob Leak, President of Winston-Salem Business Incorporated, says several ideas are being considered for the site, which includes around 120 acres of land.

“What I believe the long-term looks like is a mixed use development that would have potentially some light industrial assembly type of opportunities, warehouse logistics support, some retail, residential and some things that could tie into Wake Forest University sports facilities that are located just across the street from the property,” says Leak.

Leak says the development group is already seeing interest in Whitaker Park from potential companies. He expects an announcement on its first tenant within the next 4 to 6 months.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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