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DMV seeks to relocate to city site

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Traffic flows on North Church Street on Wednesday in front of the six-story building that at one time was the headquarters of Hardee's Food Systems.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rocky Mount is in contention to become the future headquarters of the state agency whose job is to issue and renew driver’s licenses and to make sure vehicles are registered in North Carolina.

The former Hardee’s Food Systems headquarters, a six-story building on North Church Street just north of U.S. 64, is sitting unused — but that could change by the start of next year.

That’s because the state Division of Motor Vehicles wants to relocate from a site along New Bern Avenue in downtown Raleigh to the building on North Church Street, just on the Nash County side of the railroad line dividing Nash and Edgecombe counties.

State Department of Transportation officials believe the Rocky Mount site meets the legal definition of the lowest competitive bid.

“We’ve done our due diligence to follow the law in this case — and we’re going to follow the law,” DOT spokesman Jamie Kritzer said over the phone on Wednesday.

Specifically, DMV wants the go-ahead from North Carolina’s leading officials early next week to sign a slightly more than $2 million-a-year lease for 15 years, with the deal to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Additionally, DMV would have the chance to secure a five-year renewal option, followed by the chance to secure another five-year renewal option after the first renewal expires.

If the Rocky Mount site is chosen, DMV proposes using slightly more than 139,000 square feet of space.

A request for approval is on the agenda of Tuesday morning’s Council of State meeting in Raleigh.

The council is comprised of the top state executive officers, including Gov. Roy Cooper, and has the power to make decisions about state purchases of properties.

Kritzer said the General Assembly required a process for relocating the DMV from its  present headquarters because of health and safety issues beyond the state’s control.

He said up-fits were made so employees could safely work at the location and to buy time, but he said, “Staying in the building was not an option” and said DMV must be in a new location by October 2020.

To meet the deadline, he said, DMV was given a directive in the last legislative budget.

He said DMV worked with partners at the state Department of Administration and DOT’s facilities management team to issue a request for bids and to develop an open and fair review and get the most competitive bid.

Kritzer said 10 site proposals were submitted.

According to documents provided Wednesday by Kritzer, there was a review of the two most cost-effective locations, with one of them being the former Ellis Research Center site in Research Triangle Park.

Kritzer said after the competitive open bidding process, the Rocky Mount site was recommended as the one for the new headquarters.

The recommendation, which is the only site not in the Raleigh-Durham area, isn’t coming without opposition in Raleigh.

The News & Observer reported Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is upset about the loss of jobs and reported state Sen. Dan Blue is opposing the relocation because the present DMV headquarters has been an economic hub for one of the poorest parts of Raleigh.

Kritzer also said there have been concerns raised by DMV employees about the commute — approximately an hour one way — if the headquarters is moved to Rocky Mount.

“So we are committed to helping the employees through this transition process,” he said. “And certainly, public transportation is an area we would look at helping to make that transition more smoothly.”

The Council of State meeting is set to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The part of the Council of State agenda listing the DMV headquarters item identifies the lessor of the former Hardee’s building as Prime Properties, in care of Scott McLaughlin.

The property was purchased for more than $1.3 million in 2016 by McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of Strategic Connections in Raleigh, and his partner, David Hicks, a Zebulon businessman who’s from Nash County.

A Telegram story in autumn 2017 reported a Raleigh-based commercial property brokerage company, NAI Carolantic Realty, was being used to help recruit a major company as a tenant.

The site, which dates back to the mid-1960s, was the home of the Hardee’s corporate offices. After Hardee’s was sold to CKE Restaurants Holdings in the late 1990s, the headquarters was moved to Missouri and later to Tennessee.

In 2000, Centura Bank signed a long-term lease for the complex. Even after Centura was acquired by RBC Bank and RBC’s U.S. headquarters moved to downtown Raleigh in 2005, RBC still kept much of its back-office functions in Rocky Mount.

PNC Bank acquired RBC Bank and continued to use the site until the expiration of its lease in 2016.

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