This story first appeared in the June 13 print edition of GSA Business Report.
Verdae Development Inc. and Hollingsworth Funds have a plan to transform a utilitarian stretch of Laurens Road into what they call a “next generation destination.”
The organizations recently unveiled a new outlook for approximately 90 acres of Laurens Road property with a vision that aims to create a vibrant and inclusive mixed-use district “that reflects Greenville’s cultural and social diversity while acting as a platform for economic innovation with commercial office, residential, recreation and retail in a new urban setting,” according to a news release.
While many details of the plan will emerge as plans proceed, some of the vision’s core elements promote accessibility, sustainability, connectivity and affordability, including:
A new central street running parallel between the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail and Laurens Road.
A new green ribbon of parks and open space.
Improved connectivity for public transit as well as pedestrian and bike friendly trails and pathways.
The conversion from a one-use retail corridor to a mixed-use district that incorporates economic development through office, small business and entrepreneurship; provides opportunities for a retail landscape to meet current trends; introduces new areas for public recreation; and integrates a variety of housing options to maintain affordability.
“What we’ve presented is a long-term vision for an area of focus within Verdae that intentionally provides flexibility to adjust to Greenville’s growth, the market, and most importantly, to great ideas from community partners to help bring it to life,” Gage Weekes, president and CEO of Hollingsworth Funds, said in the news release.
Verdae is the 1,100-acre master planned community that started in 2005 on one of the largest tracts of land in the Greenville area that was owned by the late textile machinery magnate John D. Hollingsworth Jr. He left the bulk of his estate to Hollingsworth Funds, a charitable foundation established to use his holdings to support Furman University, the YMCA, and nonprofits benefitting the greater Greenville community. The creation of Verdae and its continued development helps fund a wide range of community initiatives annually supported by Hollingsworth Funds.
A cost for building out the vision has not been determined.
“Given Greenville’s tremendous growth and changes to the market over the past 15 years and with almost half of Verdae remaining to be developed, the timing was right to revisit the original master plan to ensure that Verdae is positioned to deliver value to the Greenville community for the next 10 to 15 years,” the release said. “Hollingsworth Funds and Verdae Development initiated an Urban Land Institute Advisory Panel in late 2019 which helped lead to the decision to engage a world-class team of planning professionals to refresh the master plan.”
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, HR&A Advisors, and other professionals have been working with Verdae Development and Hollingsworth Funds in a planning process that is grounded in real estate analysis and market data. This strategic review began with an in-depth study of the entire 1,100-acre master plan property, but led to a concentration on a portion of the footprint that has been performing as big box retail centers since the 1980s, the release said.
“We’ve learned a great deal,” Debbie Wallace, president and COO of Verdae Development, said in the release. “First and foremost, we have more land than can be absorbed by the market within a 10 to 15-year planning horizon. We can be more successful by reducing the development target area and cultivating greater community impact.”
Market realities that surfaced and influenced the creation of the new vision included:
Verdae is physically and economically between the downtown core and suburban market for products like office, residential, and retail/amenities.
Greenville’s growing customer base has genuine purchasing power and seeks alternatives to typical suburban office and residential products.
Demand for residential (at a mix of price points), office, retail (sized and located strategically), and open space will drive value.
Public-private partnerships are a key ingredient to funding required infrastructure and amenities.
“Greenville has a rich history of public-private partnerships, and Hollingsworth has certainly been a valued private partner with the city,” Grenville Mayor Knox White said in the release. “The preliminary vision for Verdae is something we have wanted to see for some time along the main corridors in Greenville. This helps create new nodes of excitement and activity.”
Weekes said the next several months will be important as Hollingsworth and Verdae continue to gather input from community stakeholders, work with the city on its current development code process, establish a plan of finance for public infrastructure, and find development partners to execute the vision.
“This is a vision for a livable community for the future that builds on a legacy of exceptional planning and re-imagines a place where accessibility, sustainability, connectivity, affordability and innovation intersect,” Weekes said in the release. “We are excited about the opportunity to create a vibrant and inclusive mixed-use district that delivers value for the Greenville community and helps support Hollingsworth Funds’ philanthropic initiatives.”
Verdae Development Inc. serves as the master developer for the 1,100-acre planned development.