For more than a year, the biggest question surrounding County Square has been which one of six developers would be chosen and what would be included in the redevelopment described by Greenville County officials as “game-changing” and “evolutionary.”
That question is now answered.
Developers RocaPoint Partners/The Georgetown Company, architects Foster+Partners and Wakefield Beasley & Associates, and commercial real estate firm KDS Commercial Properties have been chosen as the development team for the billion-dollar transformation of the nearly 38-acre county government office site that was once home to Furman University and Bell Tower shopping mall.
“It’s a pretty rare opportunity,” said Phil Mays, one of the principals of RocaPoint. “It’s part of an area that has been so successful already in downtown. It’s got charm and walkability. A lot of times we try to create that, but here it already exists.”
Project Window, the code name for the project, was unanimously voted out of the Greenville County Council committee of the whole last week and read into the record without any discussion during the Council’s regular meeting. Second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1.
Details of the agreement, which is expected to receive final approval on May 15, have not been released.
“The time is now, and the time is right,” said County Council Chairman Butch Kirven, “and these are the most capable group of partners we could have.”
While the development will include a 250,000-square-foot multistory office building to house county operations, the key to the whole project is economic development, Councilman Lynn Ballard said.
“[RocaPoint] had the best offering for what we’re envisioning,” Ballard said.
That vision includes a new windowed building and public plaza at the corner of Church Street and University Ridge that would serve as a gateway to the rest of the development. While the county hasn’t spent time looking at the design of the county facility, County Administrator Joe Kernell said its architecture will be very prominent and the plaza will be an important element.
Mays said the county office building would be the focal centerpiece of the development, much like the new PGA Tour headquarters RocaPoint and Foster+Partners are doing for the tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Foster+Partners also designed Apple’s headquarters.
“The county will be proud to call the building home,” Mays said. “As we’ve seen with the PGA Tour headquarters, it will be something folks who live in the county will want to see.”
Ballard said the building is transparent, open, and accessible. “The design of the building says transparency, and that’s what we want in our county,” he said.
The redeveloped County Square is expected to have 3 million square feet of new Class A office, retail, hotel, residential, and public space. While it is expected to generate annual business revenues of more than $560 million once completed, county officials say the development will be fluid, with the market driving the exact mix of uses while maintaining the character and components in RocaPoint’s proposal.
“We anticipate a certain amount of square footage over the property, but the marketplace desires will dictate the mix,” Mays said. “Different uses get better at different times.”
Kernell said the new county office building is projected to cost $60 million, and it’s the county’s intention that the building is paid for through the sale of the County Square property. The county will transfer the property to the developer in stages as the project progresses.
After the agreement gets final approval, work will begin on designing the county building and master planning the entire site. It will take up to 18 months before construction of the county building begins and likely until summer 2021 before the county is able to relocate its operations. That delays the rest of the development because the county must continue to operate, Kernell said.
A redevelopment includes several parking garages, including a 1,000-space facility for county employees and visitors conducting county business.
Kernell said the development team said County Square would be attractive for a corporate headquarters because of its proximity to downtown.
It will potentially be 10 years before the redevelopment is complete.
Mays said that the mixed-use development could actually help the traffic situation that jams some of streets around downtown at rush hour because workers would have options to live close to their jobs, taking cars off the street.
“We carefully looked at traffic patterns,” he said. “We’re trying to get people out of their cars.”
RocaPoint’s proposal includes a realignment of University Ridge.
Kernell said the redeveloped County Square could generate $22.5 million in annual tax revenue for the city and the county. It currently generates none.
“We’re capitalizing a raw county asset and transforming it into a refined community asset that will benefit county residents,” he said.
Kirven said the project is more than a new county office building, and new retail and restaurants.
“It’s a once-in-a-century opportunity,” he said. “We’re looking beyond the brick and mortar to what it does for the people in terms of quality of life, mobility, and accessibility. It’s not just an extension of downtown. It’s a test bed that will demonstrate how the future looks in an urban environment. It’s a clean slate where we can design and create the smart urban environment of the future.”