ALLISON WALSH | CONTRIBUTOR
The word “relationships” comes up a lot in conversations at Carolina Holdings Inc. Relationships. You will hear it from the principals, the architects, engineers and contractors that help bring their development projects from blueprints to brick-and-mortar facilities and the national, regional and local retailers that bring those developments to life. Those relationships are with key leaders and community members in cities throughout the Southeast and they are with one another, as a small team doing big work.
Over the last 30 years, Carolina Holdings has overseen 5.5 million square feet of development — including 80 CVS drugstores in the Carolinas and Tennessee and a 1-million-square-foot shopping center in Nashville — and is currently responsible for the leasing and management of 2 million square feet of property. Impressive numbers by any measure, but particularly when one considers the staff number is only nine.
“We have been able to do the kind of business we do by having very close affiliations with a number of other companies,” says Mike McNicholas, who founded the Greenville-based real estate company in 1986. “There are architectural firms in town that we’ve done over 100 projects with.”
The very first of these projects was Butler Square in Mauldin, a 75,000-acre shopping center completed in 1987 and anchored by a BI-LO grocery store that still stands today.
“We’re embedded in the community; we raised our children in the community; we have favored charities that we’ve been a part of. So when we go out there and talk to the neighbors, we’re one of them.”
Mike McNicholas, founder of Carolina Holdings
“Harper Corporation built that first project at Butler Square, and they’re still building things for us 30 years later,” says Bill Misiaveg, who oversaw the leasing and management of Butler Square through another company and eventually came on board at CHI in early 1989. “I can look on our wall [of photos of past projects] and there’s the Barnes & Noble over on Haywood Road. Joe Pazdan and Brad Smith of McMillan Pazdan Smith — that was their first Pazdan Smith project that they did, over 20 years ago. Part of our story is their story, and vice versa.”
Just as important as these partnerships is the responsibility of being good stewards in the communities in which CHI does business, according to Britt Goodson, who joined Carolina Holdings in 1990 but worked with them on their Florida projects almost from the company’s inception.
“We’re throughout the Southeast, so we’re in a lot of communities. One of the things we take very seriously is trying to be a part of that community, because we’re there for a long time,” Goodson says. “One of us is over there at least every other week and we know a lot of the local residents, certainly a lot of the city leaders, and our job for our retailers is to take that responsibility and make it work, because at the end of the day they are in the business of selling things to the people that live around them.”
One local example of that community-driven focus is a 20-acre piece of property currently under development in the Five Forks area of Simpsonville. The project, slated to open in early 2017, will be anchored by a 53,000-square-foot Lowes grocery store and include a fuel center, Starbucks and several other restaurants and retail shops. The development will also play host to a number of office buildings, including a 35,000-square-foot medical office building.
McNicholas acknowledges the inclination of people who live in an area to resist further development, but also asserts the reality that change is inevitable. He says he and his team made a concerted effort through multiple channels to understand the needs and desires of the community and have incorporated those into the plan to build what he terms “an absolutely beautiful development.”
“We’re embedded in the community; we raised our children in the community; we have favored charities that we’ve been a part of, invested in, been on the boards of for many years. So when we go out there and talk to the neighbors, we’re one of them. A number of our people live out in this area. So it’s not something that we don’t have firsthand experience with,” he says. “We know what it’s like when someone tries to do something; you want it to remain like it was forever — and who can blame anybody for that? But that’s not going to be the case. It is going to change, so why not make it as good as you can possibly make it?”
Change will one day come to Carolina Holdings, too, as McNicholas and Misiaveg are near retirement age, but McNicholas is confident the company’s legacy is secure.
“We’ve got younger people sitting out there doing great work on our behalf, and they’ll be the guys in 10 years, 20 years, along with Britt, that are running this place,” McNicholas says of David Winburn and Robert Martin and the rest of the Carolina Holdings team. “They have the same sort of commitment to the company, and to each other. So the company’s in good hands.”