The former Charleston arm of the fallen commercial real estate giant Grubb & Ellis expects to expand into Columbia and Greenville under a new relationship with a Canadian company.

Toronto-based Avison Young’s first South Carolina office opened for business in Mount Pleasant on Monday, led by local industry veterans Chris Fraser and Jeremy Willits.

Fraser, who is chairman of the Charleston County School Board, was named principal of statewide operations. Willits is managing director of the Long Point Road location, which has nine commercial real estate brokers and three support staffers.

“The group has a solid reputation for great client service and will be instrumental in helping Avison Young expand our business throughout the Southeast U.S.,” said Mark E. Rose, chairman and CEO. “South Carolina is home to several important corporate headquarters and presents a strong regional growth area for our company.”

Fraser, Willits and the other brokers who switched to Avison Young had been with Grubb & Ellis|WRS. Independently owned WRS recently terminated its affiliation with Grubb & Ellis, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and has since been sold.

The firm is now aligning itself with an expansion-minded Avison Young, which has tripled in size over the last three years to 31 offices, including newly opened branches in New York City and San Francisco.

Fraser said one of his goals is to expand the franchise into South Carolina’s industrial hub in the Upstate in the next year or two.

“We think there’s an interesting line between what happens in the Greenville area and what crosses the docks in Charleston,” he said.

The deal with Avison Young also calls for the Mount Pleasant office to open a branch in the Columbia market, he said.

“It gives us the opportunity for the first time to have a statewide presence,” Fraser said.

While Avison Young is a newcomer to the state, the roots of the local office go back to a Charleston real estate company that Fraser started with former business partner Miles Barkley in 1989. The firm aligned itself with the Grubb & Ellis franchise in 2006 and was sold to WRS three years ago.

After a long slump brought on by the last recession, the commercial real estate market in the Charleston region is starting to show signs of a recovery, Fraser said.

Vacancies are tightening in all major property sectors, and buying activity is up, he said.

“People are optimistic again,” Fraser said. “There are so many positive vibes going on in this community right now.”

Contact John P. McDermott at

937-5572.