Graydon Pleasants, head of IQ development, set to retire

6 minute read

Innovation Quarter today announced the retirement of Graydon Pleasants, Head of Development, effective June 30. For more than 20 years, Pleasants has worked to acquire and assemble 337 acres of land, build infrastructure, oversee development and activate more than 2.1 million square feet, including new office, lab, residential and retail space in what has now become one of the leading innovation districts in the world.

In addition to land and building acquisition, Pleasants found a particular knack for working across collaborative lines to make projects come to fruition. Over the years, he built solid and effective working relationships on behalf of Innovation Quarter with various local, state and federal government institutions, private developers, elected officials, tenants, business executives and civic leaders from across Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, North Carolina and throughout the world. These key relationships helped establish Innovation Quarter as a true public-private partnership, a key to being a leading district of its kind.

“Simply put, without Graydon and his efforts, connections, skills and foresight, Innovation Quarter wouldn’t have happened. At least not at this scale,” says Terry Hales, Executive Vice Chief Academic Officer, Administration, for Advocate Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “His positive impact on downtown Winston-Salem is immeasurable. He has been not just a part of, but has played a pivotal role in every major turning point the Innovation Quarter has had since the year 2000. Graydon’s expertise, vision and most of all, friendship, will be missed by everyone associated with this effort and on behalf of the Innovation Quarter team, I thank him and wish him a wonderful and relaxing retirement.”


In the fall of 2001, Dr. Richard Dean and Doug Edgeton, then leaders of Wake Forest University Health Sciences, retained the services of Pleasants to help acquire land and space for Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s increasing research and education efforts in downtown Winston-Salem, with a vision to create a new hub of biosciences and technology. Pleasants’ efforts, connections and perseverance resulted in the eventual donation by R.J. Reynolds Inc. of 45 acres and 1.2 million square feet of historic tobacco manufacturing buildings that would later become what is still today the largest historic redevelopment project in the state of North Carolina.

Pleasants played a key role as a liaison Innovation Quarter’s major developer, Wexford Science + Technology, which to date has brought online almost 1.2 million square feet of office, lab and retail space.

“The fact that Innovation Quarter is globally recognized as a premier innovation district and significant contributor to the economic vitality of the region, is a direct reflection of the vision, passion, and collaborative approach of Graydon Pleasants,” said James Berens, Founder and Chairman of Wexford Science & Technology.  “It has been our privilege to work with Graydon to transform a former tobacco factory into a hub of research, academics, entrepreneurial activity, corporate engagement, and community inclusion.  While Graydon’s steady presence and thoughtful guidance will be missed, he has created a strong foundation at Innovation Quarter that will enable it to grow and prosper into the future.”

Some of Pleasants’ more notable contributions to the Innovation Quarter include:

  • $50.2 million in streetscaping, infrastructure work and rail relocation, including the development of Research Parkway, now a major thoroughfare in downtown Winston-Salem
  • $25 million in total infrastructure work throughout the Innovation Quarter, bringing amenities such as high-speed fiber and increased parking
  • The development of major community amenities, including of Bailey Park, Long Branch Trail, Bailey Power Plant and the Coal Pit, which thousands of residents and visitors visit and enjoy every month
  • A primary liaison on behalf of the Innovation Quarter serving to support broad stakeholder engagement, including the development of Metropolitan Village in East Winston.

“Graydon Pleasants has played an essential and pivotal role in the successful development of the Innovation Quarter,” said Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines. “With his real estate background and effective negotiating skills he has been able to forge collaborations among the City, County, the Medical Center and the private sector to develop and redevelop projects totaling almost $900 million. His leadership and positive spirit will be greatly missed.”

Innovation Districts Team

Pleasants’ retirement comes as Advocate Health—through its academic core, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist which includes Wake Forest University School of Medicine—has established a new “Innovation Districts Team” to oversee the continued growth of the Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem as well as the development of The Pearl innovation district in Charlotte.

Terry Hales, executive vice chief academic officer, administration, for Advocate Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who has directly led Innovation Quarter efforts for the last five years, will act as the Innovation Districts overarching Leader.  As the Districts leader, he will report into both Julie Freischlag, MD who serves as chief academic officer and executive vice president of Advocate Health, chief executive officer of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and executive vice president for health affairs of Wake Forest University; and Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA who serves as executive vice president and chief innovation & commercialization officer for Advocate Health.

Pleasants’ current responsibilities will be shared among Innovation District Team members, including district geographic lead of iQ, Jason Kaplan; district geographic lead of The Pearl in Charlotte, Hillary Crittendon; and director of community relations, Lindsey Schwab.

Global Institute on Innovation Districts

In late 2019, Pleasants powerfully elevated the practice of innovation districts by representing Innovation Quarter as a founding member of the Global Institute of Innovation Districts (GIID) Steering Committee – helping translate innovation district best practices on an international scale.

“As the founder of The Global Institute of Innovation Districts, I have the fortune of working with hundreds of visionary and thoughtful leaders to advance an innovation district,” said Julie Wagner. “Not only does Graydon rise to the top, he is a clear global leader, teaching and advising others. He will be deeply missed.”


Pleasants acknowledges the unique and important roles the following organizations have played in the development of the Innovation Quarter during his time:

  • City of Winston-Salem/Winston-Salem City Council and Mayor’s Office
  • Forsyth County/Forsyth County Commissioners
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation
  • Wake Forest University Health Sciences
  • Wake Forest University
  • Stimmel & Associates
  • Wexford Science + Technology