Developer sees hubs of commerce in plugged-in office buildings

Electric cars like Ed Fargo’s Nissan Leaf can be recharged for free at MWV’s office building at the Nexton development in the Summerville area. (Photo/Andy Owens)
Electric cars like Ed Fargo’s Nissan Leaf can be recharged for free at MWV’s office building at the Nexton development in the Summerville area. (Photo/Andy Owens)
By Andy Owens
aowens@scbiznews.com
Published Aug. 11, 2014

Ed Fargo has two choices for his nine-mile drive to MWV’s office building in Summerville: electric car or electric motorcycle.

When he drives his Nissan Leaf, the vehicle can be seen plugged into the charging station outside MWV’s offices in the Nexton development. Fargo can make the trip to and from work six times, about 100 miles, for $3.

Kenneth T. Seeger, president of MWV Community Development and Land Management, oversees the 5,000-acre mixed-use development under construction at the intersection of Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 17A in Summerville.

(Click image for larger version. Graphic by Ryan Wilcox)
(Click image for larger version. Graphic by Ryan Wilcox)
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Several companies have installed electric vehicle charging stations at the Nexton development after MWV added the amenity at its office building. (Photo/Andy Owens)
He said Nexton encourages electric, clean diesel and other alternative fuels by giving employees and office visitors free charges and premium parking for using those vehicles. The parking lot for MWV’s office building, which is jointly operated with The Rockefeller Group, has 17 parking spots for carpoolers and 21 spots for high-efficiency, low-emission vehicles.

Seeger said the idea is catching on with others coming to the development. The Courtyard by Marriott hotel and SCRA’s office building are also offering car charging for guests and employees.

“We really encourage everybody else who is building buildings out here to have similar facilities,” Seeger said, adding that bike racks and showers are part of MWV’s office culture and could be incorporated into others. “Each element’s a little different.”

Seeger said the effort has sparked a trend within Nexton, but the larger goal isn’t to just focus on electric vehicles or recharging stations. The goal is to create comprehensive infrastructure so that mixed-use developments can create jobs and also help take cars off of the roadways.

The site for Nexton wasn’t picked just because MWV had land in and near Summerville. The location positions the development to pull from Summerville and entice businesses and industry to locate in the company’s nearby commerce parks.

MWV, which also is partnering with The Rockefeller Group on an industrial, build-ready commerce park near Jedburg, sees Nexton as an extension of an economic development package that will get motorists off of Interstate 26 between Summerville and Charleston and provide a better work-life balance for those who want to work near where they live without sitting in traffic.

Seeger said MWV took a regional view to appeal to businesses and industries that don’t need to travel farther than U.S. Highway 78. With Summerville nearby, a company could locate administrative offices in Nexton, then locate distribution or manufacturing operations in Jedburg and Ridgeville. That could draw workers off of Interstate 26.

“We’re actually seeing manufacturers looking, as much or more than distribution, starting to look at Jedburg,” Seeger said. “It’ll be accessed off the new interchange. Drop-Off Drive will come right into the new interchange. So you know the Rockefeller/MeadWestvaco Foreign Trade Zone, then a little closer to Jedburg we have our Omni Industrial Park.”

Work on the interchange is expected to begin in the next nine to 12 months after federal wetlands permits are secured. Seeger said Nexton will begin work on a parkway to connect everything and is hoping for the road work to be completed by mid-2017.

Seeger said that work and commerce are underpinned by technology and the infrastructure to power it. Nexton has deployed fiber optics as the only gigabit community in South Carolina, which helped it lure Palmetto Primary Care Physicians’ new medical complex. Doctors there plan to use high-speed data to conduct telemedicine and quick consulting to diagnose diseases in patients.

That also lured applied research corporation SCRA to move from offices at the Trident Research Center in North Charleston, which Boeing purchased as part of its expansion near Charleston International Airport, to Nexton. Many of SCRA’s partners operate globally in technology, software, biotech and other sectors, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

“They use the Internet all the time for their research, and they’ll have fully redundant high-speed fiber optics to that building from two separate carriers, a primary carrier and a backup carrier,” Seeger said. “So that they’ll never be down because that’s how dependent upon the Web they are.”

The technology also sparks interest from retail, office, education, medical, residential and high-tech companies. For example, residents will be able to manage energy usage and control climate remotely with their smartphones. Seeger said Nexton is also in talks with high-end culinary operations interested in expanding to the development.

He said offering electric charging stations was a natural progression of a philosophy that creates walking trails, multiple parks, and walking and biking connectivity throughout the development. Technology also provides a foundation that’s attractive to businesses and industries that rely on data to operate, manage resources and conserve energy.

“It’s sort of a metaphor, just like GigaFi is sort of a metaphor for what we’re about,” Seeger said. “When you create a community like Nexton, it’s just automatic you have electric charging stations, you need to have green building guidelines, you need to have trails that are walkable, and a really actually inexpensive but very important way to make the community more efficient is the technology, the high-speed network.”

Nexton spent $3,200 for the car charging station at the company’s office building. They also paid for it to be installed. The station, which uses swipe cards provided by MWV, was purchased at Home Depot. Seeger said if demand increases, MWV will add more charging stations.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly electric cars sort of get over the hump of not having enough charging stations. I have a friend who really, really wants to buy a Tesla and they did research on where they could charge it and so forth, and there still were some gaps, particularly in this part of the world, and they’re just kind of waiting. They want it, so I think it’s a matter of time.”

Demand for more plug-in stations likely will increase as more space is leased at Nexton, residents come to live there and growth increases for schools and retail. Seeger said
Nexton has been in talks with the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority about providing short-term routes to give access to CARTA’s bus system, but he’s not sure when a critical mass will be reached to drive demand beyond that.

“We should have — by 2017, I would hope we’d have you know 200 or 300 homes in Brighton Park Village by then, and it’ll start to have critical mass,” Seeger said, adding that employers moving in will drive residential demand, which will drive demand for services, including transportation. “It’s a two-way thing. The medical campus, once built out, should have 1,000 to 1,500 employees at least.”

But only 150 acres of Nexton’s 5,000 acres are currently under development. Seeger said that land will go fast as the pace continues. Roads, walking trails and parks take up a lot of space quickly, and Nexton donated 24 acres for an elementary school. A Montessori day care and school is also planned. The company also has office space ready to lease, from 5,000 square feet up to 50,000 square feet, or larger if a company wants to build its own facility.

“We’re pleased and excited at the pace of everything and the interest everyone has shown,” Seeger said. “It’s sort of like this area was waiting for something like this to happen, and everybody seems excited about it.”

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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