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REGIONALREPORT Triad

Insurer’s exit provides premium space downtown
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Trying to keep track of who owns the company once called Integon Corp. is like trying to win a shell game. But at least you always knew where to find it: the corner of Fifth and Spruce streets in downtown Winston-Salem. Now that’s about to change, too. The automobile insurer is leaving its longtime headquarters, an iconic if not particularly attractive building, for an office park on the north side of the city next year.
Integon was originally a division of Security Life and Trust Co., founded in Greensboro in 1920. In 1969, it became a separate holding company, specializing in coverage for high-risk drivers. But it ran into financial trouble in 1997, when claims soared and profits collapsed, and was bought by GMAC, then the finance arm of Detroit-based General Motors Co., which changed the insurer’s name to GMAC Insurance.
GM sold GMAC in 2006 to a private-equity firm, which split the insurance and finance businesses, and in 2009, the insurer was sold again, to American Capital Acquisition Corp., a financial-services holding company in New York. A GMAC sign may still grace the building, but it’s now marketed as National General Insurance. It employs about 700 locally, down from more than 1,000 in 2006 and well below what would efficiently fill its current space of about 500,000 square feet. Officials told the Winston-Salem Journal that American Capital’s need is now closer to 120,000 square feet.
Jason Thiel, executive director of Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, is glad the insurer is staying in town but admits that backfilling the building will be a challenge. Still, the company line among Thiel and other downtown recruiters is that the vacant space is great inventory that will lure other businesses. It is in a good location and has plenty of parking, they say.
The Wells Fargo Center in Winston-Salem went through a similar recycling after its anchor tenant — Wachovia Corp. — shrank and then was acquired. Now the building’s 600,000 square feet are almost all leased. The difference, however, is age. The Wells Fargo Center is 20 years old; GMAC Tower is 33 and needs upgrades and renovations for multitenant use. But it isn’t just the insurer that has been bought and sold. Oak Brook, Ill.-based Retail Properties of America Inc. purchased the tower in 2004 for $60 million but turned it over to the lender for $14.5 million in 2012 after defaulting on its loan. The lender has created a limited-liability corporation for the building but hasn’t said anything yet about upgrades.
 
.3%
Rise in the Dixon Hughes Goodman Triad Business Index in July, the fourth straight monthly increase. Business activity in the state grew 0.1%.
 
“We find it very curious that you can have two magazines, two surveys and two widely varying results.”
— Mary Jo Cagle, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Greensboro-based Cone Health. U.S. News & World Report named the system’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital the fifth-best in the state in July, but Consumer Reports bestowed its lowest rating for surgeries on it last month.
Source: News & Record, Greensboro 

Briefs

WINSTON-SALEM — The Budd Group sold its security division to Santa Ana, Calif.-based Universal Protection Service for an undisclosed amount. The move will allow Budd to focus on janitorial, maintenance and landscaping services.

GREENSBORO —
VF will open three product-development centers — one here to research and design jeans, a technical-apparel center in Alameda, Calif., and one for footwear in Stratham, N.H. — in the first half of 2014. The apparel company did not specify how many workers they would employ.

WINSTON-SALEM —
Publix Super Markets will open a grocery store here in 2015, its first in the Triad. The Lakeland, Fla.-based company will debut its first store in North Carolina early next year in Charlotte. It also recently announced plans to open them in Asheville, Cornelius and Cary.