As Southeast grows, cities and developers fight to re-imagine urban spaces

The Cardinal Newman development would add roughly 250 apartments and approximately 45,000 square feet of retail space on a 12-acre site.
The Cardinal Newman development would add roughly 250 apartments and approximately 45,000 square feet of retail space on a 12-acre site.

From Knoxville, Tennessee to Charleston, South Carolina, many southeast American cities are experiencing tremendous growth that is putting a strain on their infrastructure. 

Cities in this region are rapidly seeking out solutions that reduce costs while meeting growing demands for living spaces.

As covered by Palmetto Business Daily, a recent report from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute found that denser, multi-family developments can actually reduce traffic congestion and the need for more infrastructure.

Leading the charge in bringing modern, multi-family developments to the Southeast is The Beach Company, headquartered in Charleston. Today, the company is growing into cities such as Greenville, South Carolina. It has a unique insight on what it takes to break ground in new markets on these types of denser, multi-family housing developments.

In an interview for the second of a three-part series, Dan Doyle gave TI News Daily insight into the challenges of breaking into a new market. As the vice president of development, his work often involves the intersection of forward-thinking and established values.

“Often times, whether it’s a political body, such as a city council, they're going to hear their constituents,” Doyle told TI News Daily. “And (it) is often a voice that does not want to see change.”

Change, however, is what many new inhabitants to South Carolina are looking for. As part of a growing trend of increased urbanization, people are eschewing the commute-based suburban life for apartment spaces in walk-able neighborhoods.

“Today’s renter wants to be downtown, or they want to be in a location where they can walk to various goods and services,” Doyle said. “It’s been going on for a long time now.”

Doyle and the Beach Company specialize in “infill” sites, moving into aging parts of Charleston, and transforming properties often into a mix of business and living spaces that meet those demands. Building walk-able spaces changes the dynamic of getting a project completed. He notes that building a building without the expectation that each inhabitant with have more than one, or any, automobiles, means that more space can be given to additional apartments, more businesses or even greater green space.

Even if a city like Charleston is on board with a project, aging infrastructure and a desire to preserve the city’s historical charm can limit projects. Changing a lot into a modern space requires more than laying down bricks--it also requires changing what could be decades, or even centuries, of city planning rules that led to sprawl. Such was the case when The Beach Company built one of the first developments of Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. City leaders at the time sought to revitalize the portion as a “walk-able” downtown after years of developmental neglect. The Boulevard is a 325-unit apartment building, and was among the flagship developments of a city regulatory shift that sought to make greater walk-ability and greater density in the Charleston suburb. But the project's four-story appearance, despite being within the agreed-upon plan limits, spurred a public backlash.

“It was really a complete transformation,” Doyle said of the Coleman project. “People looked at (The Boulevard), however, and said ‘wait a second, four-story building, that’s not what we thought it would be,’ … just a whole combination of things to where they’re now going back and they repealed...essentially the bones of what that vision would be.”

Though political realities mean not every project can be seen perfectly through to its 20-year ideal, Doyle said that many cities are embracing the development. A Beach Company project under development in Forest Acres, a suburb of Columbia, has spurred the local government to make infrastructure upgrades that are long-overdue, Doyle said. The Cardinal Newman development would add roughly 250 apartments and approximately 45,000 square feet of retail space on a 12-acre site. Even just approaching local government, he said, fueled change.

“Although we were the driving force in putting the plan in place, they used that as an opportunity to get a funding source to address some issues that need to be addressed," Doyle said.

Among those issues were the modernization of street lights in the area of the project development. City planners are now proposing to designate the area that includes the Newman project as a multi-county business park, according to reporting by WLTX in Columbia. Assistant city manager Andy Smith told the news station last month that the designation would allow the county to use the increased tax revenue over 10 years to directly pay back funds borrowed to make the infrastructure improvements.

But regardless of the ease, or lack thereof, of working in new markets, Doyle said the key to seeing the projects through is being straightforward about their plans.

“For the most part it’s...doing what you say you’re going to do," Doyle said. "That’s how we operate. We can’t predict the future, but we can do our best at delivering a product or project that we think will be beneficial to the community.”

Organizations in this Story

The Beach Company Victoria Transport Policy Institute

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