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Real Estate - Commercial

Developer Mark Cothran on Greenville's growth — and where it’s going

Real Estate - Commercial
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"You can either complain about the 330-plus million people crowding the United States, or you can develop it,” said Mark Cothran, owner and founder of the Greenville-based real estate company, Cothran Enterprise.

Cothran, who considers himself more of a real estate entrepreneur rather than a developer, generally flies below the radar when it comes to promoting the real estate projects he is involved in around the Upstate, but that doesn't lessen his impact as a successful developer.

He grew up in Greenville and left early in his career to work in large markets for Coldwell Banker Commercial and US Shelter Corporation. When he moved back to Greenville in the 80s, he took part in developing the highly desirable community of Riverwalk with his uncle John Cothran. In 1986, he started Cothran Co. and since then, he has completed more than 40 major commercial and residential projects in retail, industrial, single-family and townhome developments and owns or has under-development properties totaling more than $80 million.

The growth the city of Greenville has seen over the years has attracted a diverse group of people, according to Cothran.

“Everyone knows where Greenville is now, and tons of people are developing here that you didn’t see 10 to 15 years ago,” he added. “And who can blame them. Who doesn’t love Greenville?”

Cothran credits his success to Greenville’s vibrant community, his strong and dedicated team and his working knowledge of the many disciplines associated with real estate development, including civil engineering, architecture, construction, real estate law, finance and market analysis. His broad knowledge of these disciplines has allowed him to be involved with many successful projects spanning multiple product types in all phases of the business cycle.

“Greenville has changed a lot, especially when it comes to who we compete against, but the future is an attractive business climate,” he said. “South Carolina is also great for business in general, because it’s a pro-business state and has a lot of good things going for it. I think South Carolina in general will continue to grow for that reason.”

Cothran has always studied the markets. After being back in Greenville for a while to expand into income property, he decided to begin developing and/or acquiring an office portfolio of approximately a half-million square feet. At that time, he was the third largest office building owner in Greenville and then sold that portfolio before the great financial crisis of 2008.

Following the financial crisis, he stepped back from developing and transitioned into what he calls a “real estate entrepreneur,” because he started buying stressed residential developments or notes. What started out as buying subdivisions to grow his residential assets turned into a joint venture with builders to build homes in these neighborhoods for a few years.

The arrangement with builders wasn’t a long-term, viable solution, so Cothran decided in 2012, it was in the best interest for his company to rein in more control of these residential projects and start Cothran Homes LLC. After growing that division over the next 10 years, he appointed long-time employee Anthony Kent as broker-in-charge and president in 2022 to lead Cothran Homes. Kent currently oversees the sales, marketing, and design functions of the homebuilding division.

Right now, Cothran Homes has two neighborhoods in and near Mauldin that are under development and have more than 60 homes that are in various stages of construction, according to Cothran.

Cothran credits his success to Greenville’s vibrant community, his strong and dedicated team and his working knowledge of the many disciplines associated with real estate development. (Photo/Provided)“When it comes to our residential company, we are definitely a speculative builder,” he added. “If we see a niche in the market, we will build based on that need. We develop desirable neighborhoods in Mauldin, Simpsonville, Greer, Travelers Rest, Spartanburg, and Greenville with homes in the high $200 to $400,000s, and then find the right homebuyer for our homes.”

Cothran said they handle land development internally and will consider buying land from other property owners if the opportunity is right for their residential division.

On the other hand, Cothran Properties commercial division typically buys and develops all the land like with his latest project at Global Commerce Park, a 67-acre industrial park with close proximately to Interstate 85, GSP International Airport and the BMW Manufacturing Facility. This Class-A industrial park will accommodate five multi-tenant buildings totaling ±800,000 rentable square feet. Cothran is currently pre-leasing 140,636 square feet in building three of Global Commerce Park and expects delivery of this building shell in the second quarter of 2023.

Another large project that Cothran Properties developed was Southern First Banks’s new ±107,000-square-foot banking headquarters in Greenville, a project that gave him personal and professional satisfaction.

“Southern First headquarters was a fee only Build to Suit (BTS) project, but we don’t pursue those opportunities aggressively,” said Cothran. “Instead, we look at market trends and growth and try to figure out where opportunities are based on extensive research and generally build buildings without any pre-leasing.”

Cothran also thinks having something move-in ready is very valuable to his business on both commercial and residential sides, and that is where he sees a big opportunity. The global COVID pandemic really put a strain on supply chains, developers and builders like Cothran, who have had significant delays bringing inventory to market.

Current challenges he continues to see today are the cost of labor and supplies, labor availability, and random shortages such as with electrical transformers, Cothran said.

“I have new townhomes in one subdivision with roads and infrastructure that I built in April 2022, and Duke Power can’t get me transformers until late January 2023,” was an example of a current challenge Cothran said he is facing. “Building anything used to take less time and now it’s harder to get anything completed. We had to pivot and improvise to account for any changes. It’s a strange time. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been doing this a long time.”

So, what did he learn post-pandemic?

Cothran adapted to these inconveniences and found new ways to handle these problems. He said at one point they had to use five different window manufacturers just to complete a project. He always orders supplies and materials as soon as possible and has a place to store materials for his many projects.

“It’s frustrating but it helps to have a flexible mind and move on from what was to what is,” he said. “You can’t have the mindset of, ‘I wish I could go back to how things used to be.’”

Cothran is also a member of the NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, which is an important resource for him to navigate global, national and regional issues impacting commercial developers. He attributes his ability to survive and thrive in this uncertain time because of his employees.

“Everyone is here for a reason and has an important role,” he added. “We are very talent dense, which I believe sets us apart. We feel good about what we have built, and it shows when we are working with our customers. It takes the stress out of the project when you have people in place who know what they are doing, and this is what helps us compete with developers and builders much bigger than us.”

Reach Krys at 864-640-4418.

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