Past, future of iconic building praised

Aug. 13, 2014 @ 06:53 AM

If you used to work at the headquarters of Broyhill Furniture Industries when it was on U.S. 321, you would stand a fair chance now of being able to find your way through the building now that it is the headquarters of Exela Pharma Sciences. You also would stand a fair chance of getting lost.

Many of the hallways look the same, but in many parts of the building walls were demolished and new rooms created.

This three-story, 142,000-square-foot building, built in the 1960s, once was a gleaming icon of the region’s leading industry, and it drew a couple dozen community leaders Tuesday to praise it for what it is now: an icon of Caldwell County’s hopes for economic transformation. The building, bought by the pharmaceutical maker in April 2013, is in transformation itself, partially renovated, partially occupied and partially vacant. Tuesday was its ceremonial ribbon-cutting as Exela's headquarters.

The office once occupied by Paul Broyhill, chairman of Broyhill Furniture, is a microcosm of the mishmash of past and present to be found in the building. The office still has the same deep-green, plush carpet and a tall, glass-faced cabinet against one wall. But where Broyhill had a large, imposing wooden desk, there now is an equally large, sleek granite slab on a stout, shiny metal base, with a flat-screen computer on top of the table.

The office now belongs to Jonathan Sterling, Exela’s director of quality and regulatory affairs, who told visitors on a tour that he kept the carpet and cabinet as an homage to Paul Broyhill and a reminder of the building’s place and history in the community.

Broyhill spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, sounding not wistful about the building’s past – except the long-gone fountains that used to be out front; “I miss the fountains,” he said – but excited that the building, which he said he designed himself, has a new lease on life.

Others echoed that thought. Doug Johnson, CEO of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., said he can see the building from his own office on the other side of U.S. 321, and that used to be depressing.

“I remember sitting in my office across the street feeling sad because I could see the weeds growing up” around the building, which had been vacant for about two years before Exela bought it, Johnson said.

Much of the building remains vacant, to be used for future expansion, some of it quite soon. Sterling showed visitors a still-being-renovated area on the building’s third floor where there are 48 individual offices awaiting the new sales and marketing staff that Exela will create in the coming months.

Exela CEO Phanesh Koneru pledged at the ribbon-cutting that his company, which now has 109 employees, is committed to growing in Lenoir and is not looking anywhere else. The company recently bought a building on Morganton Boulevard near the Fairvalue grocery store to expand its manufacturing operations.

Exela now has 15,000 square feet of lab space, 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 17,000 square feet of warehouse space in Lenoir, plus 280,000 square feet of office and future manufacturing space, he said.