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Major corporate donors announced for Greensboro's Tanger Center

GREENSBORO — With the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts set to open in March, project leaders announced Monday two more corporate sponsors that will help to make it happen.

Kontoor Brands and Brady Services have donated $1.15 million to the new venue, under construction downtown at North Elm and East Lindsay streets and Abe Brenner Place.

The $750,000 sponsorship from Kontoor, the jeans wear company that spun off from VF Corp when VF left Greensboro, and Brady Services’ $400,000 sponsorship will create third-floor hospitality suites.

The hospitality spaces “will play an important role in ensuring the annual financial success of the Tanger Center, and will define the Tanger Center for its uniqueness among other state-of-the-art performing arts centers in the country,” said Matt Brown, Greensboro Coliseum complex managing director. The coliseum will manage the new venue.

The 3,023-seat performing arts center will feature touring Broadway shows, concerts, the Guilford College Bryan Series of prominent guest speakers, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra performances, a Greensboro Opera production, comedy shows and family entertainment.

The venue already has sold 15,840 season seat memberships for the 2020-21 Broadway season.

The exact opening date has not been set, Brown said. He said he hopes to host events for donors and a grand opening for the public. So far, the earliest performance scheduled is Jay Leno on March 22.

With the additional sponsorships, the center’s budget will approach $93 million — nearly $88 million for the project itself and $5 million in bond-related financing costs, shared by the city of Greensboro and private donors.

The City Council is scheduled to increase the budget Jan. 21.

No taxpayer money was used on construction, Brown said. The city’s portion will come from a combination of ticket fees, parking revenues and a tax on hotel rooms.

Among those attending Monday’s announcement were Kathy Manning, who led the effort to raise $42 million in private donations, and Walker Sanders, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, which convened the task force that began center planning nearly eight years ago.

Also present were representatives of the Koury Corp. and the Schiffman family. The Koury family previously had given $500,000 for naming rights to a third-floor ballroom.

The Koury Ballroom, the Lee & Wrangler Lounge and the Brady Services Suite will form the Tanger Center’s three hospitality spaces. They will host a variety of pre-show functions including receptions, artist lectures and other special events.

The Schiffman family’s previous $525,000 donation gave them naming rights for the “Schiffman’s Ring of Light,” which will be suspended over the seating area of the Tobee and Leonard Kaplan Theater.

The center is named for the CEO of Tanger Outlets, who pledged $7.5 million for the project.

The Lee & Wrangler Lounge, named after Kontoor’s most prominent brands, will feature a full-service bar. It also includes access to the outdoor terrace that overlooks LeBauer Park and Kontoor’s headquarters.

That outdoor terrace will be named for local philanthropist Joe Bryan Jr., who previously gave $1 million to the project, Brown said.

Sponsoring part of the Tanger Center was an easy decision, said Scott Baxter, Kontoor Brands president and chief executive officer.

Kontoor’s nearby headquarters houses 850 of its 15,000 associates worldwide.

“They are proud of what’s happening in the community — the building that’s going on and all the excitement that’s happening downtown,” Baxter said.

The Brady Services Suite overlooks Elm Street and provides views of downtown while hosting pre-event hospitality and corporate-meeting functions.

Founded in 1962 as a Trane franchise, the family-owned Brady Services specializes in commercial heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Jim Brady, president and CEO of Brady Services, called Monday “an exciting day for all of us and certainly a mile marker in the history of Greensboro and the Triad at large.”

“This is going to create a lot of diversity and opportunity for building community, for enhancing the social fabric of our community, and enhance the lives and well-being of everyone that lives in the Triad,” Brady said.

Accompanying him was his wife, Louise Brady, who co-chaired the performing arts center task force.

She was among those touring the building interior on Monday against a backdrop of construction noise.

Manning sat in the auditorium’s back row. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” she said.

An interesting article in today's paper

Worse for wear: A class president who wore pajamas to school found himself in a jammies. Page A2

City, county officials to consider $3.6 million in incentives for Greensboro's Syngenta

GREENSBORO — The City Council and Guilford County Board of Commissioners will consider granting $3.6 million in economic development incentives to retain Syngenta, a Swiss-based company that sells agricultural chemicals and employs 650 locally.

Syngenta, a subsidiary of Syngenta AG, operates a 70-acre campus and 17 buildings on Swing Road in Greensboro.

In a statement, company spokesman Paul Minehart said the site was established in the mid-1960s and renovations or a relocation are a necessity.

“Due to the age of the site and ongoing repairs and renovations required for the buildings ... the company is exploring options for the future,” he said. “These include renovating our current facilities as well as moving to a new location in the area or elsewhere.”

City Council will hold a special public hearing at the Melvin Municipal Office Building on Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. to discuss the proposal.

That same day, Guilford County commissioners will vote on a $1.9 million incentive package at its regularly-scheduled meeting.

The company said, “pending the outcome of those sessions, Syngenta will announce a decision about its Greensboro site in the near future.”

In the past year, City Council has already granted major incentives packages to two companies to keep them, and their jobs, here.

In March, the council approved an incentives package of up to $426,000 to entice New York apparel company Centric Brands — which was considering other cities — to move into downtown’s Gateway Building. The 220 jobs will pay an average of $54,014 a year.

In November, the City Council granted The Fresh Market about $300,000 to retain its 248-employee headquarters and expand by 53 jobs. The city joined with High Point’s offer of $300,000 and Guilford County’s package of $106,000 to convince the specialty grocery company to remain in Greensboro, where it was founded in 1982.

In Greensboro, where Syngenta AG’s North American offices are based, Syngenta houses administrative, marketing, sales and research operations.

Syngenta has other operations in Research Triangle Park and throughout the state.

The company employs more than 1,000 people in North Carolina with an annual payroll of about $165 million.

According to the company, its North American operations represent $3.5 billion of its $13.5 billion in global sales.

Europe uses tons of NC trees as fuel. Will this solve climate change?

From the outskirts of Selby, a 1,200-year-old former coal-mining town in northern England, you can see the smokestack and the dozen cooling towers of the Drax Power Station, the largest power plant in the United Kingdom.

For much of its 45-year-history, Drax burned coal mined from the nearby Selby coalfield. But the last coal mine closed in 2004 and now Drax says it has gone green — with help from the trees of North Carolina.

Thousands of acres’ worth of North Carolina trees have been felled, shredded and baked into wood pellets, which have mostly replaced coal as Drax’s fuel.

In a corner of Drax’s 400-acre compound are four metal silos, each larger than London’s Albert Hall, according to the company’s website. That’s where 300,000 metric tons of wood pellets — also called biomass — are stored. A dozen 25-car trains arrive daily, delivering 20,000 tons a day, six days a week.

What makes biomass good for the environment? It has to do with carbon dioxide, the odorless, colorless gas most responsible for climate change.

Wood, like coal, is mostly carbon. The thinking is, if you burn wood and plant a new tree, the new tree will absorb the carbon dioxide given off when you burn the old one. If you burn coal, the CO2 given off stays in the atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat and warming the planet.

But many scientists have said that biomass calculation is inaccurate. For one thing, it doesn’t include the CO2 emitted from smokestacks at Drax and other biomass facilities. And, in a piece written for Nature, Timothy D. Searchinger, a Princeton University forest economist, and a handful of other researchers said that wood pellets give off 1.5 times as much carbon dioxide as coal per kilowatt hour and three times as much CO2 as natural gas. Drax disputes that figure, saying that stack emissions of CO2 at its facility are only about 3% higher than coal.

And even if a new tree is planted for each one burned, the scientists say, it would take decades for a new tree to absorb the CO2 released by burning the old one. The consensus among climate scientists is: We don’t have that much time.

Over the past six months, The News & Observer, with support from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, has been examining the wood pellet industry and its effect on North Carolina, which according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, will soon produce and export more wood pellets than any other state.

An endorsement

In 2009, members of the European Union agreed to obtain 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

About half of those “renewables” are the familiar ones: wind, solar, tidal, hydropower. But the other half is biomass: energy derived, ultimately, from plants. In the case of Drax and other converted coal plants in Denmark and the Netherlands, biomass means energy that comes from trees.

For European power plants facing a continental commitment to getting off coal, biomass provided a convenient fix. The EU plan designated biomass as “carbon neutral,” meaning it doesn’t emit any new carbon into the atmosphere. That declaration was based on the “burn-a-tree, plant-a-tree” equation.

The result was that the wood pellet industry, the main export form of solid biomass, has boomed. Biomass exports have increased tenfold since 2009, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. In 2010, the U.S. Southeast exported about 500,000 metric tons. By 2018 that had surged to 6.5 million metric tons (about 7.1 million U.S. tons).

And that’s only the beginning: The industry has big plans for expansion. Drax owns pellet mills in Louisiana and Mississippi and has two shipping terminals on the Gulf Coast to direct wood pellets to its terminals in England. But it largely relies on Enviva, a Maryland-based company that is the world’s largest pellet producer; Enviva says it has a contract with Drax to supply 650,000 metric tons of pellets a year through 2026.

Enviva built its first pellet plant in Ahoskie in 2011. Today it owns eight plants, four of them in North Carolina. When expansions already approved by the state are complete, those four plants will be able to produce almost 2.5 million tons of wood pellets a year.

In a June investor call, Enviva CEO and cofounder John Keppler announced that the company planned to nearly double its exports from current rates of 3.5 million metric tons per year to 6.5 million metric tons per year by 2025, largely by increasing sales to Japan and Korea. Those two countries are following the EU lead by replacing their coal and nuclear with biomass.

“As nations around the world continue to take major steps to combat climate change,” Keppler told investors, “Enviva is addressing the problem today, helping reduce the life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions of major utilities.”

Closing the loop

Jason Shipstone is the vice president for innovation at Drax and has led the plant’s continuing conversion from coal to biomass. In an interview in July, Shipstone sat in an office trailer on the Drax compound and pointed to a poster on the wall, a depiction of how logging in North Carolina is supposed to help Europe slow climate change.

“You burn the CO2 that a tree (absorbed) as it grew,” Shipstone said, his index finger transcribing the closed loop of the carbon cycle, “and then you plant new ones.”

“What’s the stat?” he continued. “Right. What we emit here in an hour, the growing forests in the United States absorb in a minute.”

To many scientists and land activists, however, biomass is a fast train moving in the wrong direction.

“It’s so simple I feel stupid repeating it over and over,” said Mary Booth, a former Woods Hole Research Center and Columbia University ecologist whose Partnership for Policy Integrity organization has been a principal critic of the biomass industry. “Carbon can be in one of two places: It can be in the atmosphere or tied up in forest biomass. In the atmosphere, it warms the atmosphere just as effectively as fossil fuel carbon.

“So if you want to maximize the amount held in trees, and minimize the amount held in the atmosphere, then stop burning trees.”