Twice a year, more than 75,000 members of the home furnishings industry—designers, retailers and press—descend on the town of High Point, North Carolina, for the spring and fall furniture markets. Street signs greet visitors in multiple languages. Hotels are booked up within a 30-mile radius and lines spill out the doors of the local Starbucks.
The rest of the year, the 111,000-person town is much quieter—but perhaps not for long.
In 2016, High Point’s city council outlined an ambitious plan to attract new restaurants, residents and commercial activity. The anchor of the project was a baseball stadium, a $36 million project that opened in the spring of 2019.
Now, the surrounding neighborhood is coming to life. In a bid to make the furniture hub a year-round destination, Business High Point, the town’s Chamber of Commerce, has unveiled its plans for Congdon Yards, a $30 million campus that will include the mixed-use creative hub Plant Seven and its neighboring building. A third building, the Congdon Event Center, will be built on the site’s adjacent parking lot in the coming years.
The trio of properties are now owned by High Point native David Congdon, the chairman of the board of directors and former CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line, a publicly-traded, High Point–based trucking company. The bulk of the project’s funding comes from the Earl and Kathryn Congdon Family Foundation, a nonprofit created by David Congdon’s parents that provides grants to businesses in the greater High Point area. The Congdon family is leasing the buildings back to Business High Point for $1 a year.
Originally built in 1904 as the Adams-Millis Hosiery Mill, the building was rechristened as Plant Seven and reopened in 2018 as a cultural hub that boasted co-working and retail spaces in addition to exhibitions from local artists.
“Plant Seven has now grown into something that is much more than what it was originally going to be, which was essentially a co-working space,” says Patrick Chapin, president and CEO of Business High Point. While Congdon Yards will still feature a dedicated co-working space, it will also create other venues that encourage community gathering. Located across from the stadium, the Plant is part of a flurry of developments in the works around the Congdon Yards campus, including a food hall and several new hotels set to open over the next two to three years.
A mixed-use space in Plant Seven (the working name of which is The Living Room) will feature a cafe, a retail area to sell locally-sourced goods, and a makerspace complete with furniture fabrication equipment that will be available for craftspeople to use. “We want to literally give people the tools to do small batch furniture production,” says Chapin. “Then, when they make their product, we can showcase it in our retail space. We’d like it to be a destination for people coming to High Point, of course, but also a great way to help designers and artists grow their business. That's our overall goal—economic development and promoting entrepreneurs.”
The city currently has very few options for individuals or small businesses to reserve meeting space, so a promised community boardroom at Plant Seven is expected to be a draw. Elsewhere in Congdon Yards, there will be private office space, the Material ConneXion library, and a TEDx Event Space that will host speakers in conjunction with High Point University. The university will also relocate its student-run public relations and marketing department to Plant Seven.
While the goal of the development is year-round use, Business High Point plans to work with the High Point Market Authority to integrate the new development with the semi-annual market, which Chapin says impacts the local economy to the tune of $6 billion each year. The hope is that the market will host events and talks at the Yards, making it a natural extension of the programming happening across town.
High Point–based firm Barbour Spangle Design is overseeing the interior design of Congdon Yards pro bono. “We feel so strongly about the health of our downtown and the generosity that the Congdons have exhibited towards boosting it, so this is the least that we can do,” says the firm’s principal Christi Barbour. “The thing that warms my heart is that the entire community is rallying around this and trying to do what they can to help make it as successful as it could possibly be. We felt compelled to be a part of it and to give back to the community and to give back to our industry.”