When John D. Hollingsworth died in 2000, the former textile magnate had amassed 42,000 acres of land, making him the largest private landowner in South Carolina. The crown jewel of his holdings was a 1,800-acre triangular slice of property at the interchange of I-85 and I-385 in the city of Greenville.
Today, 1,100 acres (the other 700 are combined with CU-ICAR and the Millennium Campus) are called Verdae—a new-urbanism, master-planned, traditional neighborhood development celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
AN IMPORTANT JOB
Hollingsworth willed his entire fortune, including the 1,800 acres, to a charitable foundation called the Hollingsworth Funds. His will stipulated that all profits from the sale of his land and holdings be divided among local groups that included Furman University, the Greenville YMCA and other Greenville County charities.
The foundation’s board members knew they faced a challenge figuring out how best to use the property, manage the holdings and continue giving to the charities as Hollingsworth desired.
The 1,100 acres were zoned S-1 (services district), meaning an industrial park or business park would have been acceptable uses. Both were among the options discussed in the early planning stages, said Bill Monroe with WGM Design, who served as project architect for the Verdae master plan.
“When we started, it was a blank piece of paper,” said Monroe.
The planning team ultimately decided an urban neighborhood environment, with parks, homes, retail and office, was the direction to go. The initial 25-year Verdae master plan envisioned homes for 8,500-10,000 residents, 500 businesses and 15,000 jobs.
“There have been some changes, but not to the detriment of the overall game plan,” said Rick Sumerel, president and CEO of Verdae Development. “We’re still within the scope of what was originally released.”
Monroe said the hardest sell to board members in the early concept stages “was to do something in Greenville in 2004 that was innovative, and that a traditional neighborhood development in Greenville would work.” He said they looked at similar neighborhoods, such as I’on in Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island in Charleston and Atlantic Station in Atlanta, when planning Verdae.
“The biggest challenge is that we want to make this a signature product,” said Tim Reed, chairman of Verdae Development’s board of directors. “We want something that we can look back on and folks will say, ‘Wow, these people did it right.’”
While he wasn’t on the board during the initial planning, Reed says he believes it’s definitely the right direction.
EXECUTING THE CONCEPT
In 2007, Ruskin Square, the first neighborhood within Verdae, began construction. According to plans, the first phase of Verdae was to get the residential component started, Sumerel said.
It was important to get things right and keep a quality look and feel to the development, Monroe said. Guidelines were created that are still followed today; each house built at Verdae goes through an intensive review to ensure it meets the original vision.
“Even during the recession we were very deliberate,” Sumerel said. “Our first question is always, ‘What do you want to do on the property?’ Then we talk about land price.”
Since 2005, 463 homes have either been built or are under construction at Verdae, with another 559 apartments.
“Now, phase 2 is when the neighborhood retail and office components kick in, and we’re right on target,” Sumerel said.
Monroe said more and more urban development would appear as the master plan continues to unfold. “We’re barely scratching that surface,” he said.
Monroe expects Verdae to start “getting the feel of a small South Carolina downtown.” He remembers once overlaying the Verdae master plan onto the downtown Greenville map, and was surprised to see Verdae is “five to 10 times the size of downtown Greenville. It could be a whole other city within the city.”
The addition of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail will also be a huge asset, said Reed. “It will tie into the wellness of Greenville.”
Monroe said he anticipates specialty shops and further development along I-85 and Verdae along the lines of a Phillips Place in Charlotte. “That’s where we’re pushing for next,” he said. “A 20-story condo building overlooking I-85 wouldn’t be out of the scope of possibilities.”
RESHAPING LAURENS ROAD
“One of the top things we’d like to see most is to execute the redevelopment of Laurens Road,” said Sumerel. Just this week, Verdae released a statement announcing plans to demolish three former retail buildings along the Motor Mile this summer. As soon as the required permitting is obtained, the former Best Buy, Sam’s Club and Jack in the Box on Laurens Road will be removed to make way for new development.
“Since the redevelopment announcement last year, Verdae has finalized an agreement to sell 25 acres of the residential portion of the project”—the Velo at Verdae apartment complex announced in February, Sumerel said. “Taking down the old buildings is the next step to move 30 acres of the project’s retail segment forward. Marketing the raw site will be the best way to showcase the property and location.”
Verdae Development announced the redevelopment of Laurens Road a year ago, projecting a $100 million redevelopment effort with 30 acres of retail, 70 acres of residential and a new park and trails connecting to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.
The 100-acre project is one of the city’s largest commercial enhancement projects in years and will stretch between Laurens and Woodruff roads—radically changing the look and feel of one of Greenville’s oldest commercial corridors.
Sumerel said he hopes to sign a restaurant soon at Legacy Square, Verdae’s current retail hub, that will serve as a catalyst for even more neigh- borhood retail and office.
“Then we can start moving up on the radar screen for major corporate office uses to the area,” Sumerel said. The 60 acres located along I-85 behind the two current office buildings have always been designed to handle a large office headquarters, similar to the TD campus or Hubbell Lighting headquarters.
“The ideas and thoughts put down years ago planted the seeds; we’re just harvesting them,” said Reed. “It is now a well-oiled machine that keeps churn- ing out quality developments.”