Bushy Park investors add to property holdings

The former Jacobs Applied Technology property at Bushy Park fetched $7 million last week. The buyer knows the neighborhood well.

An obvious buyer has snapped up one of the more intriguing pieces of commercial real estate in the Lowcountry, a mammoth property with a long manufacturing heritage.

The new owners see no reason to break with tradition at the former Jacobs Applied Technologies tract along the Cooper River near Goose Creek.

“We’ve always had our eye on that facility,” said Marc Fetten, CEO of Pacolet Milliken Enterprises Inc.’s Cooper River Partners unit, owner of the adjacent Bushy Park Industrial Complex.

The company’s latest acquisition in that neck of the woods comes almost a year after Jacobs began to close its 94-acre Berkeley County fabrication business as work ran dry. The $7 million sale closed Wednesday.

“It does a couple of things very quickly for us,” Fetten said.

For starters, Cooper River Partners can promote all or part of an existing 400,000-square-foot, 201-foot-tall colossus. The hulking, cube-shaped structure is visible from the Ravenel Bridge on a clear day.

“We can take a huge amount of covered space to the market, which desperately needs manufacturing space that’s ready-built,” Fetten said Thursday. “That is certainly always a big advantage.”

Also, the purchase gives the new owners an existing deepwater barge terminal and other big-ticket “capital assets” they were planning to build elsewhere at Bushy Park.

“It eliminates the need to replicate that,” Fetten said. “And that manages the environmental impacts. It minimizes them.”

To boot, last week’s sale included a working fleet of industrial-grade cranes, lifts and other heavy-duty equipment that’s ready to go.

“There’s a great asset base up there that can be utilized,” he said.

Once spanning more than 4,000 acres, Bushy Park was one of the Lowcountry’s first large-scale industrial addresses. Local officials began the planning process in the 1940s, namely because of the abundance of fresh water.

South Carolina Electric & Gas bought the property in the mid-1960s and later built its Williams Generating Station on part of the tract, which over the years was sold off in smaller parcels.

The Jacobs building originally belonged to General Dynamics, which in 1975 moved in to make submarine parts and huge metal spheres for the natural gas and waste storage industries. The big containers required a plant with a minimum 150-foot opening.

The defense giant moved out in 1993 and sold the property to a local venture proposing to build barge-mounted power plants. That business went broke a few years later.

Jacobs emerged on the scene in 2001, when the engineering giant paid $8.5 million for the plant at a bankruptcy auction and relocated a 200-worker business to the coast from Orangeburg. The Pasadena, Calif.-based company used the Bushy Park site to design and build large processing lines — from oil refineries to chemical plants — that could be broken down into modules, transported and reassembled elsewhere.

By last year, Jacobs decided to close up its local applied technology shop, without explanation.

Fetten, who knows the neighborhood well, was standing by. He’d been involved in Bushy Park even before he joining Cooper River Partners, which acquired the 1,600-acre property in 2009 for $10 million. He stayed on after Greenville’s Pacolet Milliken bought out the Pittsburgh-based investor group two years ago.

Fetten said he sees a need in the market for the cavernous Jacobs space. For example, the new ownership group will consider shorter-term leases for manufacturers in the project-driven, highly cyclical fabrication industry.

“That’s the nature of that whole business,” Fetten said. “You’ve got to be flexible, and we can do that.”

He added that one tenant already has agreed to lease part of the plant, though he could not disclose details last week, and that Cooper River Partners is fielding interest from the space industry.

“We’re going to make a big push now that we’ve closed on the property,” Fetten said.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572.