Opinion: University Ridge development to generate $1.1 billion economic impact for county

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University Ridge development
County Square - Rendering provided by RocaPoint Partners

By Butch Kirven

Butch Kirven The proposed University Ridge Development is an unheard-of opportunity for Greenville County to partner with private enterprise in converting an unproductive land asset into an extraordinarily productive and durable future revenue stream that would not otherwise occur.

With this project, future County Councils will have many options – funds to pay for more deputies and to expand EMS services, a first-class public transit system, affordable housing, and more, with no pressure to raise taxes.  

Over the next eight-10 years, the taxable value of the University Ridge private development is estimated to be $1.1 billion.  

  • The project will create 7,700 construction jobs, 5,500 permanent jobs, and about $560 million in annual business revenue.  
  • In addition, the county will receive $23.5 million per year in additional tax revenue on the privately owned developed property, also benefiting public schools.
  • Total county revenue over the next 20 years will total $537 million.  
  • Out of that, costs to the county will be $32.5 million for public infrastructure, $40 million for off-site state offices and family court, and $67 million for the new county office building on University Ridge.  
  • The net annual revenue for the county from the developed University Ridge property would be about $19 million per year – about 20% of total current county property tax revenue.                                                   

Greenville’s downtown renaissance over the past 30 years has been phenomenal. The opening of Liberty Park in 2005 following demolition of several buildings and the old Camperdown Bridge sparked developments on both sides of the Reedy River and along Pendleton and Augusta streets – new hotels, office buildings, retail, restaurants, condominiums, apartments, the Peace Center expansion, the old Greenville News site, Fluor Field, and many others. Sitting in the middle of all this is 37 acres of land on University Ridge with an old shopping mall converted to the county office building in 1984.

Over the years, the county received numerous inquiries from parties interested in purchasing some or all of the county’s acreage. County Council members were not interested in leaving this central location, but they were aware that the former shopping center building that houses local and state government offices was old and functionally obsolete. It is not the best use for 37 acres in a location that has become the most desirable location for urban development in the region. Council members soon began to realize that a new multistory county office building could be built on 5-7 acres of land and paid for from the proceeds of subdividing and selling the balance of the 37 remaining acres for urban development. In addition to the land sale proceeds, the new private development on the site will generate millions in new annual tax revenue as opposed to zero revenue as government-owned land.  

County Council made the bold decision to initiate the largest economic development project in Greenville’s history.

County Council authorized the county administrator to advertise for proposals from developers interested in presenting plans to the county that would align with Council’s objectives of maximizing proceeds from land sales, preserving county-owned land for a new county office building, structuring land sale revenue to pay for the new county office building, providing off-site space for the relocation of state offices and family court, and providing for public infrastructure necessary for new mixed-use urban developments on the University Ridge (County Square) site. Six companies/groups submitted proposals. County Council selected three to meet with and review their proposals in detail. County Council then selected one of the three finalists and directed the administrator to negotiate a development agreement.

With the assistance of experts and a series of update meetings involving County Council, a development agreement/contract between the county and a development company (RocaPoint LLC) was presented to County Council in April 2018.

County Council unanimously approved the agreement/contract by Ordinance No. 4987 on May 15, 2018.  

Soon thereafter, the county and the development company began to implement the agreement. The developer proceeded with environmental and engineering tests, engineers and architects began working on infrastructure and site layout plans and building designs, and marketing plans were formulated. For the county’s part, a firm was hired to analyze the space requirements for the new county office building and for the state offices and family court – how many square feet of space would be needed for each office, how many personnel would be housed where, and how it would all fit together for maximum efficiency and convenience to the public.

The county is responsible for providing building space for various state offices. Those offices include:

  • Family court (increase courtrooms to eight, from six).
  • The USC Law Center, Department of Social Services. 
  • Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Environmental Control; and Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services.  

Together these offices require up to 260,000 square feet of building area and at least 1,500 parking spaces. For the convenience to citizens using these services, an attempt was made to locate them together rather than scattered across the county.  

Several facilities were evaluated to meet the necessary criteria, including Greenville Technical College’s McAlister Square building, the Greenville Convention Center, and a former Fluor Corp. office building on Halton Road.  

The McAlister Square building is a converted “big box” store. It would not be available until Greenville Tech could build a new building on its main campus. In addition, the cost to modify the building for the state offices and court needs would be higher than available alternatives.

The Greenville Convention Center is converted from a former textile trade show facility. It would provide less than half the office space needed, and parking at this facility is insufficient and involves some long walks to the building. Parking is even more problematic during events at the exhibition hall. The costs to modify this facility would be over $53 million and it would not serve the need.

The Fluor building is the only structure designed and built as an office building, which makes adapting it for the state offices much easier.  

It is about the size needed, 240,000 square feet, includes 17 acres of land with ample surface parking, was just updated, and is available now. With this location and functional design, future appreciation is very likely.

The University Ridge development has several elements all connected and designed to work together as a whole. It is easy to criticize just one element or another, but that is an unrealistic way to appreciate how the whole plan is structured to achieve the objectives that were established by County Council in the beginning. If allowed to proceed, University Ridge will deliver all that is intended.

But, perhaps, this plan is too bold for Greenville County.   

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