Palmetto Commerce Park matures into thriving hub (copy)

Palmetto Commerce Park in North Charleston continues to be a hub of economic development activity in the Charleston region. Boeing Co.'s airplane interiors plant is in the lower right while the Mercedes-Benz Vans assembly plant is upper right. File/Staff

More than 30 years after a pair of Charleston area developers took a chance on an industrial park with no roads or utilities — and, most importantly, no industry — the final parcel at Palmetto Commerce Park in North Charleston has been sold.

Frank Brumley and Mike Robinson, partners in Spring Grove Associates, recently sold the final 26 acres in February to Seal Beach, Calif., developer Xebec Realty Partners.

Xebec plans to build a 262,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on the site next to Pye Elementary School on Patriot Boulevard. The project is in the permitting stage, with plans submitted to North Charleston officials and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Xebec specializes in industrial buildings in markets with existing port, highway and rail infrastructure. The company, which could not be reached for comment, has more than 7 million square feet of space in 58 projects, most of them in California. The speculative project it's planning for Palmetto Commerce would be its first development in South Carolina, according to the company's website.

Xebec bought the last parcel from the park's original developer for a little more than $1.8 million under the name Patriot XSC LLC.

That's about half the amount Brumley, CEO of Daniel Island Co., and Robinson, a Charleston native and longtime real estate appraiser, paid for the roughly 1,000-acre commerce park in 1985 with some other partners.

"It took longer than we anticipated," Brumley said of the park's development. "But once it took off, it really took off. The last six or eight years, it's been dynamic. But it took a while for it to be discovered."

In the past decade, Palmetto Commerce has established itself as one of the Charleston region's blue-chip industrial destinations. Aerospace giant Boeing Co. built its airplane interiors factory there, and followed with an adjacent jet engine design and manufacturing center. Mercedes-Benz Vans is building a $500 million plant that will manufacture the company's popular Sprinter Vans for U.S. customers.

They've been joined by companies like Cummins Turbo Technologies, Shimano American, AMT Aerospace, a Lineage Logistics cold-storage distribution center and TIGHITCO Inc., an aerospace firm owned by The Intertech Group.

The park's fiber-optic lines, redundant electrical sources and resistance to flooding — at 40 feet to 50 feet above sea level, the park is one of the highest points in Charleston County — have attracted data centers for health care provider Roper St. Francis and a 911 dispatch center.

But the park hasn't always been so successful.

One of the its biggest initial problems was the lack of access to the site. Another was the economy — the 1985 purchase was sandwiched between a pair of recessions when businesses weren't clamoring to expand. And there were no utilities for those businesses, even if they wanted to locate there.

Despite those drawbacks, Palmetto Commerce Park had some impressive assets. One was banker Bob Royall, one of the park's biggest advocates and the former South Carolina commerce secretary. Royall helped the developers obtain a state grant that paid for infrastructure, including a road connecting the interior with Ladson Road.

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Brumley and Robinson had also wooed some deep-pocketed investors — a who's who of Charleston business leaders at the time — and they paid off the park's mortgage within five years, allowing the group to ride out the lean times.

By 1994, North Charleston had a new mayor in Keith Summey, who promoted the park to business contacts and worked to extend Palmetto Commerce Parkway to Ashley Phosphate Road, nearly where it intersects with Interstate 26. There now is rail access and the park is within a few miles of the Port of Charleston.

In addition to the roads and support from business and political leaders statewide, Brumley credits manufacturers like Boeing and Mercedes-Benz Vans for the park's popularity, saying those businesses paved the way for others who might have been hesitant at first to build at Palmetto Commerce Park.

"There's a herd instinct," he said. "Once somebody figures it out, others are more willing to go in. It has exceeded all expectations and become the Class A park of choice."

There is still plenty of property and industrial space available at the park through a number of developers who bought big chunks of land from Spring Grove Associates in the early days. But for Brumley and his partners, the sale to Xebec a couple months ago caps a three-decade journey of highs and lows.

Mostly highs, Brumley said.

"When we sold that last parcel, we did a little high-five among the partnership," he said. "I have no regrets. Nothing lasts forever."

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_