With an ever-increasing number of Inc. 500 companies, Fortune 500 companies, and IPO’s taking place here in Charleston, the city introduced to America by Fast Company as “Silicon Harbor” needs a headquarters for its tech community.
Blue Acorn has flourished in Charleston’s “knowledge-based” economy, which began to take shape just twelve years ago with the inception of the Charleston Digital Corridor, and now, the company – known throughout the world for its work in the eCommerce space – is doing its part to see that Charleston gets the kind of office space its thriving companies deserve.
Fortunately, the ground for such a space has already been broken, and Blue Acorn’s Founder & CEO, Kevin Eichelberger, is proud to have his company be one of the first three tenants committed to downtown Charleston’s latest urban renewal project, Half Mile North.
“Looking at our growth trajectory, we need to find at least twice the space we have now,” said Eichelberger, “but we don’t want to subject ourselves to a bland work environment, regardless of how nice it is. When we heard what Raven Cliff Company had in mind with this new development, we knew it would be perfect.”
Filled with warehouses and smaller buildings – which will all be repurposed – and plenty of room for parking, Half Mile North will give its new tenants a chance to create their own unique and ideal spaces in what will serve as the nucleus for a mixed-use community on Charleston’s Upper Peninsula, similar to the Horizon District that is taking shape around the medical community on the western side of the peninsula. In addition to Blue Acorn, Half Mile North’s first tenants include the fixed cost reduction firm, SIB Development & Consulting, which will be relocating from Meeting Street, and Edmund’s Oast, a new brew pub founded by the same guys who opened the Charleston Beer Exchange in 2008.
Eichelberger smiled, “Like I said, perfect. With all due respect to SIB and ourselves, Edmund’s Oast will likely be everyone’s favorite neighbor.”
The first phase of Half Mile North, to be completed next year, will encompass nearly the entire block between Morrison Drive, Meeting Street, Brigade Street, and Williman Street. The second phase will include the western half of the next block to the south, fronting Meeting Street between Williman Street and Isabella Street and will likely be completed by mid-2016. The location is arguably the most accessible point on the Charleston peninsula. Nestled in between I-26 and Highway 17, this area of Morrison Drive features four lanes of traffic, bike lanes, and bus routes. A quick jaunt south on Morrison Drive quickly turns into East Bay Street, which is a direct line into the heart of a historical city that has been voted the #1 Travel Destination in the U.S. for the past two consecutive years by Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
The project is being orchestrated by Stephen Zoukis and Michael Wooddy of Raven Cliff Company. Zoukis credits his wife with deciding on a name. “Ordinarily, we would not think to name an urban project,” Zoukis noted, “but this neighborhood suffers a bit from not having an agreed upon name. We felt attaching a name to the project would be helpful to everyone until some consensus forms naturally around a neighborhood name. Half Mile North, of course, is a simple description of where the project is located: a half mile above the bridge.”
“It is so rewarding to see our tech companies, like Blue Acorn, enabling great employment opportunities here in Charleston while leveraging their success to revitalize Charleston’s Upper Peninsula,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.
Among other design professionals, Raven Cliff Company recruited master planner and interior designer, Jacob Lindsey, of Fabric Urban Design Office, along with LEED-certified architect, Laura Middleton, and LEED-certified designer, Blake Middleton, both of The Middleton Group, as three of the key contributors in leading this project. Lindsey is already a household name in the Charleston tech community for the stunning modern interior space he created for Charleston Digital Corridor’s Flagship 2.
Half Mile North won’t be limited to tech firms, however.
As Zoukis was quick to point out, “There are a lot of companies with business models, such as design firms, that may not fall under the definition of ‘tech,’ but they are in the same camp as tech companies in wanting to be part of an interesting neighborhood with certain kind of office feel. I think these are folks who will all get along well with our tech tenants and vice versa.”
The overall site design for Half Mile North will fall in the hands of Lindsey, who is particularly excited that the project will be reusing the existing buildings, not demolishing them.
“This will be a project of retrofitting and adapting,” Lindsey said. “We know the developer has high standards, and we are all looking forward to creating something authentic and real. This will mean different types of buildings and landscapes.”
Lindsey will be working with J.R. Kramer of REMARK, a landscape architecture studio, to create the perfect setting for Middleton’s buildings. Thus far, LED lighting, heavy use of native plants, and porous papers are all part of the plan. In fact, the initial renderings from Middleton are already in, and reactions thus far have been extremely favorable.
“I think that when we finish most of the work in the first phase of Half Mile North, sometime around the middle of 2014, people will feel we have created a wonderful place for people to work and one of everyone’s favorite places to eat, drink, and generally hang out,” said Zoukis. “We hope to set a high standard for the whole neighborhood, which will work to everyone’s benefit in the next generation of development.”
The next major development in the area will be strictly for tech clients and serve as a perfect complement to Half Mile North.
Earlier this year, Ernest Andrade, Executive Director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, announced that the Corridor’s new Flagship building, dubbed FS3, would be located at 999 Morrison Drive, just a quarter mile south of Half Mile North. With an expected completion date of 2015, FS3 is expected to house approximately 30 companies and become the beacon for Charleston’s tech economy. The first phase will be comprised of a 4-story, 40,000-square-foot building with a proposed second phase of 60,000 square feet.
“Half Mile North and FS3 will breathe new life into Charleston’s Upper Peninsula,” Andrade stated confidently. “It’s a proud time for everyone involved in the economic development of Charleston, a Renaissance in the making.”
Although a healthy amount of building and details lie ahead, one thing is certain: Silicon Harbor will soon have a headquarters.