Titan falls a second time

Jeremiah Ramos mows his front yard in the Joppa Way neighborhood.

A North Charleston company that hoped to redefine the residential construction industry has instead shut down, leaving a trail of debt, litigation, half-finished homes — and many questions.

Titan Atlas Global manufactured steel-and-concrete home construction kits, promising “high-quality, disaster-resistant, energy-efficient buildings” that could be “assembled at the building site quickly.” However, an attempt by the company and an affiliate to build eight homes in North Charleston’s Joppa Way community resulted in half-finished homes that are now in foreclosure.

“They left it looking deplorable. It’s ridiculous,” said City Councilwoman Dot Williams, who lives nearby. “I feel sorry for the people who have been buying homes back there.”

Williams said she’s been trying to learn who to contact about the properties, unaware that Titan’s now-former CEO, Jeremy Blackburn, is also the city’s primary contact on a major redevelopment project involving the former Charleston Naval Hospital at Rivers and McMillan avenues. Blackburn is local representative for Chicora Life Center, whose predecessor acquired the hospital from the city and is renovating the 10-story building for Charleston County and other potential tenants.

North Charleston considers the hospital property a key to revitalizing the city’s South End.

Utah lawyer Doug Durbano is one of the principals in the hospital project and a longtime associate of Blackburn. Durbano filed the incorporation papers for Titan Atlas Global, but said he has no financial interest in the failed company, and it is not related to the hospital redevelopment.

“There is no connection between the two companies,” Durbano said in an email. “What I can tell you is that JB (Jeremy Blackburn) is doing a great job on the Chicora project and working harder than any man I know to complete the project, which will be a wonderful improvement to the area and folks that will be supported by the Chicora Life Center.”

In his role with the Chicora group, Blackburn was sued last year for allegedly defaming a real estate firm, which claims the Chicora group failed to pay them. The Chicora group has countersued the company, Lee & Associates.

Blackburn did not responded to repeated messages requesting comment, at his office on the hospital property and on his cellphone.

The shutdown of Titan Atlas Global has not been explained. Just last year at Stark Industrial Park, the company appeared to be rising from the ashes of its failed predecessor, Titan Atlas Manufacturing, in spectacular fashion.

The company’s president, Ken Calligar, was on Bloomberg TV in January 2014 saying the company’s building products would revolutionize home construction. Blackburn, a Mount Pleasant resident, announced two months later that the company’s products would be used to build the world’s largest soundstage in a film industry project near Savannah.

Today, Titan Atlas Global’s phone is disconnected. Liens have been slapped on the company’s assets for unpaid workers compensation insurance, sales tax and school taxes. Blackburn is suing the company for $250,000 in unpaid wages and expenses, and the unfinished Joppa Way homes are boarded up, awaiting court action.

“The boarded-up homes invite vagrants to move in. It is not fair to us,” said Joppa Way resident Serrena Girard. “I feel like it has brought down the value of our homes.”

Titan Atlas Global didn’t survive as long as its predecessor, Titan Atlas Manufacturing, which was essentially the same business, at the same Pace Street location, and was also run by Blackburn. The first Titan shut down in January 2012, about three years after its creation, following costly patent-related litigation.

One of the first company’s owners was Donald Trump Jr., son of real estate tycoon and presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The younger Trump is also a minority investor in the naval hospital redevelopment project, a deal that began when North Charleston agreed to sell the property to Chicora Gardens Holdings in 2012.

The second Titan Atlas company was created in 2013 through a deal that included the use of the original company’s plant and equipment. Blackburn, who declared personal bankruptcy that year in Utah, erasing debts that included some of the original company’s financing, was hired as Titan Atlas Global’s CEO.

Both he and Calligar, an investment manager who helped resurrect Titan Atlas, separated from the company during the second half of 2014, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Calligar, reached at his office in New York this week, declined to comment.

It’s not clear who controls what’s left of the company. Titan Atlas Global has not defended itself in a foreclosure action involving a more than half-million dollar loan for the Joppa Way home project.

In early 2014 it appeared Blackburn and Titan Atlas Global were involved with a huge film-industry construction project proposed in Effingham County, Ga. There, county redevelopment officials promised incentives and the lease of more than 1,500 acres to the company promising to build the world’s largest soundstage, along with housing and other facilities.

A press release from a Charleston public relations firm said Shore Development, a company that shares an address and phone number with Titan Atlas Global, had been hired as construction manager, and that Titan would be hiring more employees. Shore Development, which was the builder on the Joppa Way homes, has been represented by Blackburn or his wife, Mayako Blackburn, in various loan documents.

The Georgia film studio deal later changed ownership and the new company, Fonu2, scaled back the project and hired a different construction firm, Fonu2 chairman Jake Shapiro said.

“The world’s largest soundstage — that’s long gone,” Shapiro said. “We never saw a commercial need for that.”

In North Charleston, Titan Atlas Global and Shore Development pursued a smaller undertaking: the Joppa Way homes. Titan purchased eight building lots from Charleston Habitat for Humanity for $120,000 in the small affordable housing community that nonprofit groups have been working on for years.

Shore Development then borrowed $520,000 from Florida-based Lynk Investments. It was a short-term construction loan, with an interest rate equivalent to 15 percent yearly, according to a lawsuit filed by Lynk. Shore Development borrowed the money and Titan guaranteed it, documents filed with the suit show, but no payments were made and the homes were not completed.

“I was both disappointed and surprised by what happened,” said Jeremy Browning, executive director of Charleston Habitat for Humanity. “We assumed anyone who bought from us would finish the houses.”

Now, the community is dotted with half-built foreclosed-upon homes. Browning said Habitat will monitor the court proceedings, and hopes another builder will step in.

“If that doesn’t happen, we will certainly have a conversation with the lender to see what our options are,” he said.

While Lynk tries to recoup its loaned money, the S.C. Workers Compensation Fund, the Department of Revenue, and a cement contractor have filed liens against Titan properties. In the Lynk litigation, Titan and Shore Development have filed no responses with the court.

Blackburn continues to work on the naval hospital redevelopment for the Chicora company. In December he and his wife also registered three new companies in South Carolina; SPE Properties, Development Construction and Property Management Services, and Aurora Construction.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552