Making a comeback

Ella Miller,7, speeds through the quaint street in the Mixson neighborhood. The developer of the stalled project has revamped its land for the mix-use property.

A grassy expanse on the fringe of North Charleston’s trendy Park Circle area is the latest hopeful signal that the local real estate business has truly bottomed out.

The developer, a division of Atlanta’s deep-pocketed Jamestown Properties, didn’t duck or sugarcoat the grim reality when it wisely halted construction on the highly publicized Mixson project two years ago.

“We have essentially hit the reset button,” a spokesman for the investment firm said at the time.

Jodi Lox Mansbach sought to clarify that 2010 statement last week.

“That was the pause,” said Mansbach, whose job it is to get Mixson back on track. “This is the reset button. The real reset button.”

Jamestown has used the downtime to completely rethink and scale back the original plan for the former John C. Calhoun Homes site, a 44-acre parcel at Durant and Mixson avenues.

The firm has been meeting with neighbors. It has picked and repicked the brains of engineers and land planners. It recently filed new plans with the city that call for a 37 percent cut in the number of housing units approved at Mixson, to 600 from 950.

Reaching into its deep pockets, Jamestown now feels the time is right to press ahead and pump some serious capital to jump-start the dormant project.

“We’re ready,” said Mansbach, vice president of development and marketing for Jamestown Development & Construction

Mixson isn’t alone in shaking off the cobwebs. Numerous other builders are ramping back up.

Ryland Homes, for example, recently announced plans to begin site work for 155 single-family homes at its Tupelo project near Wando High School in Mount Pleasant and another 31 lots at Wellborn Village in Ladson. By most accounts, affordably priced, smaller homes are in the sweet spot of the market.

Jamestown Properties has been involved in Mixson for more than six years. Its original partner was the developer of the acclaimed I’On neighborhood in Mount Pleasant. They paid $3.8 million for the former World War II military housing site in 2005. Demolition of the 352 homes quickly followed.

While the city approved 950 new housing units on the property, a mere 18 were completed by the time Jamestown pulled the plug and retreated in 2010.

“The market changed,” Mansbach said.

Mixson was originally designed to evoke the village-like feel of I’On. Plans showed narrow alleys with dense clusters of multistory houses and commercial buildings on postage-stamp-size lots and carefully placed smatterings of open space. The emphasis was to be on environmentally sensitive construction methods, energy efficiency, quality craftsmanship, public gathering areas and walkability.

Mansbach, a Yale University art history major with a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech, said Jamestown is still committed to those latter goals. But the firm has ditched the idea of building a smaller version of the pricey I’On community in Park Circle, citing shifts in the marketplace. The decision was likely made easier by the fact that the I’On partnership has been dissolved.

That’s not say that the existing collection of I’On-esque structures are unappreciated or feel out of place. On the contrary, Mansbach predicted, the tall, eye-catching edifices are poised to serve as the development’s urban center as Mixson matures.

“We love them,” said Mansbach, an Atlanta-area resident who stays at Mixson during her frequent trips to North Charleston. “We’re calling it ‘Old Town Mixson.’ ”

Jamestown’s new scaled-back proposal calls for a $32 million capital injection to build out part of the property starting later this year. Future developments will follow in demand-driven stages.

The immediate phase shows 22 detached houses, 10 townhomes, a sprinkling of commercial space and a $2.1 million pool, badminton and bocce center.

“It’s a good thing to have a mix,” Mansbach said.

But the most critical financial ingredient will be apartments, the hottest real estate play in Charleston at the moment. Mansbach alluded to the numerous other rental projects that are going up throughout the region.

“We’re obviously aware of the pipeline,” she said.

Jamestown hopes to tap into the rental resurgence by building 271 courtyard units. The first should be completed by summer 2013, along with the swim club, and will be priced in the $800- to $1,400-a-month range, Mansbach said.

Jamestown is confident it can fill the units, given Mixson is close to major employers, shopping centers, entertainment venues and the revitalized Park Circle district.

Mansbach noted that few if any new rental complexes of any size have been built in that area in years.

“The location is a real differentiator,” she said.

Jamestown is taking a more cautious approach to its single-family homes. The bulk of those will probably materialize in later phases of the project.

“Single-family is a hard sell, but it’s starting to turn,” Mansbach said.

She knows that firsthand because she’s been talking for months with developers looking to build homes at Mixson. The phone suddenly stopped ringing in the fall, but that didn’t last.

“The one-off calls I’m getting from developers have picked up,” she said.

Contact John P. McDermott at 937-5572.