Highwoods’ huge Cary office project fits MetLife profile

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2013 

RALEIGH

— Plans are on the table for the Triangle’s largest office projects in years – and the proposed seven-story office park could be the future home of MetLife.

Highwoods Properties’ Weston Lakefront would put a trio of towers between Weston Parkway and Lake Crabtree in northern Cary, according to sketch plans received by the town on May 22.

At 673,000 square feet, it’s twice as large as all the Triangle’s under-construction office combined. And a project of that scale likely has a big backer.

“The speculation is that it’s being built to suit for MetLife,” said Brian Reece, managing partner at Karnes Research Co. MetLife has been looking at Highwoods land on Weston Parkway, according to senior Cary staff, and the two companies do business in other markets, Reece said.

Early work on the site could begin by November, according to a project timeline.

Projects bucking the trend

Even as the housing construction recovers, new office construction has remained rare.

The Weston proposal and several downtown Raleigh projects buck that trend – but they may be outliers. Generally, financing for office construction is available when a developer has a guaranteed tenant, such as MetLife, which expects to employ at least 1,200 people at a new Cary campus.

Similarly, large tenants such as Citrix and the State Employees Credit Union have commissioned large new spaces in downtown Raleigh. Smaller offices, meanwhile, have simply shuffled between buildings, taking advantage of a regional vacancy rate of more than 15 percent, according to Karnes data.

“Everyone’s pretty much of the same mindset: not growing, basically cutting back. A lot of these companies have just went ahead and renewed,” Reece said. But “MetLife is a different animal. That’s a very large tenant, a very large project.”

Town Council review in July

In all, Weston Lakefront would include three seven-story towers, walking trails and more than 3,300 parking spots.

Highwoods plans to build two towers in the first phase of the project and one more in a second phase. The buildings, connected to the town of Cary’s greenway system, would stand just east of the office complex at 11000 Weston Parkway.

The wooded area along Cary Parkway already is home to several large offices – and it may say something about the future tenant’s management style. While tech and software companies hope urban offices attract younger crowds, Weston Lakefront sticks with the corporate isolation of Cary’s median divided, wooded highways.

The Cary Town Council is set to review the project on July 25 in a quasi-judicial hearing, as it does for all projects of this scale. The council will consider whether the project is appropriate for the site, and what impact it will have on local traffic.

Highwoods’ site, divided between two lots, is owned by Highwoods Services and Papec Weston III. The sketch plans were prepared by Piedmont Land Design.

No matter where it locates, MetLife’s set to be a presence in Cary: It could become the town’s third-largest employer, behind SAS Institute and Verizon, according to town statistics.

In all, the company projects it will employ at least 1,200 people in Cary at salaries exceeding $90,000, according to its contract with the local governments.

Cary and Wake County each could pay MetLife about $1.9 million in cash incentives, according to staff projections. In exchange, the company could put more than $85 million into a Cary campus by 2017.

Kenney: 919-460-2608

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