Businesses move to upper Meeting Street
Much of the landscape along Meeting Street Road is marked by shabby old warehouse buildings.
But the hardscrabble industrial corridor is the latest spot for small businesses to locate in anticipation of a major urban revitalization effort planned near the area.
The larger development, called Magnolia, borders the Ashley River and won't welcome its first residents until about 2011. But already, small firms like technology outfitter eLifespaces are starting to buy and develop sites along upper Meeting Street, giving passers-by an early glimpse at what could become of that part of the city.
"People had better stop and take a look at this area around here, because it's a jewel," said Fred Fabian, president of eLifespaces, who cut a ribbon for his company's new headquarters Wednesday.
The local business, which employs about 20 people, relocated to the Charleston Neck Area from a smaller space it had leased in a Mount Pleasant shopping center for the past six years.
As his company outgrew its original home, Fabian decided it needed its own high-tech showroom where clients could see their entertainment, lighting and security products.
With almost twice the amount of square footage, the upper peninsula location is outfitted with offices, displays and showrooms. It also has an eight-seat theater that can be used to demonstrate state-of-the-art sound systems.
Fabian said upper Meeting Street was an unlikely spot to move to at first glance, but officials got him excited about the changes being proposed for that section of the city.
"People like Fred Fabian understand the vision and greater potential for this area," said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
The new eLifespaces headquarters is one of the most modern buildings in the city's Neck Area. It is near aging warehouses and other industrial properties
that some believe are ripe for redevelopment. Parcels of vacant land are marked with large "for sale" signs.
Across the street from the eLifespaces property, another small business plans to break ground soon on its own larger headquarters. GreenSpirit Hydrogardens, a West Ashley-based retailer that sells gardening supplies, has plans for a 5,000-square-foot building. Gone will be the debris that now covers its half-acre lot, company owner Ross Atkins said.
"For years, it's been used as a dumping ground," said Atkins, who hopes to move in by next year.
He said the area is attractive because its location is more centralized. But he said he also knows that, for the time being at least, it's still a rough section of the city, so he's preparing for that by including a good security system in his budget.
The large-scale Magnolia development isn't expected to break ground until early next year, said project manager Cope Willis. The 200-acre site is on the other side of Interstate 26 from the Meeting Street Road businesses. Plans calls for shops, offices and more than 4,000 residential units to be built over the next 15 years.
Until Magnolia starts taking shape, Willis said, new investment and change in areas such as Meeting Street Road will come gradually.
"Slow but steady. One building at a time," he said. "I think (the industrial feel) is slowly changing and will continue to change every time one of these new buildings goes up."