McDERMOTT COLUMN: MeadWestvaco aims to build offices and a brand in Summerville
The self-contained real estate development that MeadWestvaco is beginning to cultivate on a woody edge of Summerville is getting its first office building.
And an identity, to boot.
The paper packaging giant’s real estate arm is packaging the live-work-and-play components of its master plan under a futuristic brand name that reflects the ambitions of that plan.
“ ‘Nexton’ is the project,” said Ken Seeger, president of Summerville-based MVW Community Development and Land Management Group. “As we see, it’s a forward-looking, 21st-century South Carolina community that will be technologically advanced. It will be designed in a way to facilitate convenience and healthy living. ... And it will be a place for the region to grow in the future that is adjacent to existing infrastructure.”
Nexton is big, both in size and scope. Formerly called The Parks of Berkeley, it’s situated on a 4,500-acre tract of forestland that runs along Interstate 26 from U.S. Highway 17A almost up to the Jedburg exit.
It’s squarely “in the path of progress,” as developers like to say.
MeadWestvaco envisions Nexton as a decades-long venture that brings all of the usual suspects into play: detached homes, apartments, office buildings, hotels, shopping, restaurants, schools, parks, bike paths, hiking trails and an interconnected road system.
But it also will offer blue-collar job sites at the northwest end of the property that can accommodate heavier industry, such as the massive TBC Corp. tire warehouse that’s been up and running since late 2010.
Ahead of the curve
While the TBC deal was a big score, MeadWestvaco has been hunkering down to shift the first phase of Nexton off the drawing board. It has recruited development experts to Summerville and refined its plans while waiting for the recession-scarred real estate market to recover.
Now, the company is ready to put some more skin in the game by breaking ground on a key anchor property in its first planned “village” at Nexton, a parcel that will include a previously announced Marriott-flagged hotel. Seeger expects work to start within 60 days on a sleek, energy-efficient, 100,000-square-foot office building that will house MVW Community Development’s headquarters and other corporate tenants seeking top-shelf space.
“If you look at the Charleston market, and just about every other market, there’s been a significant improvement in the occupancy of ‘Class-A’ buildings,” he said.
Such high-end office space has been lacking in and around Summerville, but Seeger sees that changing as more rooftops go up.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of that curve and be the first to offer that in the Summerville area,” he said.
By local standards, MeadWestvaco is no run-of-the-mill developer. It has deep roots, deep pockets and a deep bench. It also controls large swaths of mostly low-cost prime real estate. It amassed the property over several decades to supply pulp to its Cooper River paper mill, which the Richmond, Va.-based company owned and operated from 1937 to 2008.
The land-rich company tried its hand at property development in the 1980s and ’90s, with middling success. It got back into the game in a serious way about five years ago, and Nexton is now one of its two marquee mixed-use real estate ventures. The other is the larger and longer-range East Edisto undertaking.
In pitching the attributes of Nexton, Seeger glommed onto an issue that most developers would rather gloss over: traffic.
“We see Nexton becoming a major employment hub in Charleston in the future because so many residents now live in the Berkeley-Dorchester area,” he said.
Seeger noted that the masses from that area now must travel east on 1-26 for their jobs, as many commuters already know. He said a community like Nexton could help balance the daily traffic load.
“There is underutilized capacity on I-26 going in the other direction,” he said. “Companies that locate there will be closer to their employees. And employees who don’t live in that area will have easy commutes from North Charleston or Daniel Island or wherever they live.”
Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.