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Verdae Development taking a different approach to marketing

Real Estate - Commercial
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The vast acreage of development stretching from Interstate 85 to Woodruff Road has seen a lot of development over the last several years.

In the last four months, however, Verdae Development Inc., a subsidiary of Hollingsworth Funds Inc., took a bit of a different approach to marketing some of its remaining parcels. In January, the group, led by Rick Sumerel, president and CEO of Verdae Development Inc., spawned the idea of gathering a group of properties and exclusively marketing those, rather than focusing on just one at a time.

The points plotted on this overhead view of the Verdae development indicate the 16 properties marketed by Verdae Development Inc. in January. Now, the company said there has been “movement” on 11 of those parcels. (Photo provided)

The end result has generated interest in 11 of the 16 initial properties.

“We think it is a more orderly process for us, and we think it is more orderly for the market,” Sumerel said. “If someone calls us and says they have a need for this, we can say we have it and give that information, or say we don’t have it.

“We are now at the point where we can say pretty quickly that we either have something for a project or we don’t.”

The marketing plan

Those 16 parcels range in use from commercial to retail and office to hospitality with some additional residential parcels in the mix. Of those properties generating interest, or movement as Sumerel puts it, 70% is for commercial, retail, office or hospitality development.

“When we say movement, we are talking about at least speaking of specific terms for a contract,” Sumerel said. “There may not be a contract but the parties look at it as a transaction that makes sense.”

He could not provide any specifics as to what developers were looking at which properties.

The new marketing approach has generated fast-moving interest in the parcels inside the Verdae development, but that does not take away from the current range of activity that includes the completion of the Bank of Travelers Rest location at the intersection of Rocky Slope Road and Verdae Boulevard, the construction of the CH2M building on Verdae Boulevard and the city of Greenville’s fire station under construction to serve the development and beyond.

“Our philosophy is that we look for places that we can be part of a community,” said Eric Wall, vice president and director of marketing for the Bank of Travelers Rest. “The opportunity to be a part of a community at Verdae was very attractive to us. Plus the accessibility to Woodruff Road and to 85 was a big plus.”

Wall said the location was better because of its proximity to the bank’s other nearby branches on Pelham Road, Pleasantburg Drive and downtown Greenville.

“It has worked really well for us as far as working with Verdae, and it was just a good feel,” Wall said.

In addition to the commercial development completed or close to completion, there are two more residential developments in the works that will add 90 homes inside Hollingsworth Park. In total, there are more than 780 residences either completed or under development at Hollingsworth Park. Those include homes, townhomes and apartments.

“If the market stays the way it is, those sections could be done in 24 months,” Sumerel said, “but, there are some that only take 16 months, so things can be faster.”

Still more to come

Even with the rapid pace of Verdae development, there still stands nearly 500 acres that are undeveloped.

Even with the marketing strategy that has seemed to work, Sumerel said they are not disregarding inquiries on properties or uses not included in the original 16. He said the intent is to find what works and, if nothing in the marketing plan works, see if there is something else available.

“If the economy stays positive, we could be out of jobs because we are done with the project,” Sumerel said. “But, if that is the case then Verdae has added billions to the tax rolls and not to mention the license fees for businesses.”

Due to some recessive conditions earlier in the decade, the Verdae development was put behind in its original 25-year plan. But, Sumerel said the plan was only knocked off course by about a year. In 2005, the development was estimated to have a $2.2 billion economic impact on the area, and Sumerel said that estimate is still not far off from reality, despite the recession.

“We were not recession proof, but we were recession resilient,” Sumerel said. “That is a positive for the leadership here because we turned down a lot of projects that were proposed, but we had the resources to stick to the master plan.”

One long-standing issue with Verdae is traffic. Bordered by Laurens Road, Woodruff Road and I-85 means major traffic choke points are all around the development.

Recently, Verdae Development Inc. helped redevelop Rocky Slope Road, creating what Sumerel called a parallel to Laurens Road and Salters Road. Salters is another road on the plan for redevelopment, but no time frame has been determined. Additionally, to help with traffic issues along Verdae Boulevard, the city of Greenville installed a traffic light adjacent to the CH2M building to help with flow.

Sumerel said that future retail development along Laurens Road will likely include ingress and egress to the development, but it will likely be pedestrian and bicycle traffic, not vehicle.

“We want to find multiple ways to get in and get out,” Sumerel said. “We try to work with (the S.C. Transportation Department) and the city to stay on top of traffic flow, and I think we are staying ahead of it.”

All for good

But, he said the key to what they do at Verdae is not about the dollars and cents going into pockets; it’s more about using the profits for good. As part of their incorporation, all profits made by Verdae Development Inc. roll into Hollingsworth Funds which, in turn, passes those profits to various charities in Greenville County.

In 2015, Hollingsworth Funds distributed nearly $7 million in grants to organizations such as Furman University and the Greenville YMCA, along with 47 other nonprofit organizations in the area. The grant total was a record, surpassing 2014 by 4.4%. The trust distributes 45% to Furman University, 10% to the YMCA of Greenville and the remaining 45% to 501(c)(3) public charities operating inside Greenville County, under its provisions. Since the establishment of the trust, Hollingsworth Funds has distributed more than $55 million.

But, Sumerel said they aren’t blind to the fact that they are in the real estate business.

“We do have multiple people calling us for apartment sites and other entities want to come out here,” Sumerel said. “We are in the real estate business, but everyone knows in the back of their minds at the end of the day where things go.

“We are a little sensitive, but it is important to understand that any profitability goes back to Hollingsworth Funds. If we are out of jobs in 10 years, we will look at each other and think we did a good thing and it is a fun thing to see happen.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107, or @matthewclark76 on Twitter.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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