Revitalizing Daniel Island: Developer Mike White seeks to leave his mark
There are certainly a number of reasons why commercial real estate developers would want to invest in a place like Daniel Island. But for Mike White, it’s being able to see the “big picture” each and every day. From the fourth floor of his building at 225 Seven Farms Drive, White is on top of the world - or, more specifically, the Daniel Island world.
“You want to see something really cool?” he asks, as we walk into the large, open room dotted with desks and displays that make up his Charleston Industrial, LLC headquarters. And with the simple touch of a button, a series of thin shades covering a vast wall of windows begins to rise, revealing a breathtaking view of the beautifully landscaped condominium complex behind his building, marshlands, the bridge over the Wando River, and in the distance, Mount Pleasant.
“You just get reminded constantly of how lucky we are to live here, and how beautiful this is,” said White, SIOR, CCIM, broker-in-charge for Charleston Industrial. “And I just look for opportunities to make things a little better and put my stamp on it where I can.”
And clearly he has. White moved to Daniel Island from Texas 10 years ago with his wife, Alice White, PhD, who runs the Roper St. Francis employee assistance program, and their three daughters. He is not one to tout his well-appointed resume, but a quick visit to his company website offers a glimpse into his impressive background. White is a 1983 graduate of West Point Academy, where he earned a B.S. in engineering. He was a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army for 10 years, an experience that resulted in a Meritorious Service Medal for his activities in support of Operation Desert Storm. After leaving the military, he accumulated over 21 years of experience in manufacturing and industrial real estate, a career he continues today on Daniel Island.
“I think it’s one of the greatest places to live, certainly to raise a family,” said White. “And to be in business, it’s even better.”
Daniel Island, he believes, is on the cusp of an exciting new frontier.
“We’re the next generation if you will. If a generation is measured in 20 years, the island is about 20 years old, and you can see that the master plan originally envisioned by Matt Sloan and Frank Brumley has now come to fruition in a beautiful way and it’s time for the second generation to come in and maybe fill in some end spots or improve some buildings…But we’re doing it all under the umbrella of what I thought was a beautifully conceived plan.”
225 Seven Farms Drive
White’s company has occupied the top floor at 225 Seven Farms Drive for the last six years, after he purchased the space in 2011. A year later, he bought the third floor. He and his partners would spend the next four years seeking to acquire the balance of the building.
“We finally did and we were able to bring a lot of new life to it,” he said, with obvious pride. “It was owned by a receiver down in Dallas who could care less and never stepped foot on Daniel Island, and didn’t appreciate what they had and didn’t invest in the property. I immediately rallied all the owners and co-owners and we got everybody together.”
They put together a professional budget, hired a property manager (Tim Wood), made structural improvements, completed the unfinished spaces (coordinated by local contractor and Daniel Island resident Jim Garvey), added a new roof and parking lot, new artwork in the lobby, and started funding a reserve account.
“We really started creating a building like the gem that it was,” added White. “We’re now 100 percent leased.”
White points to specific tenant success stories as examples of the building’s appeal. When tenant Ameriprise moved out to lease space in another of White’s Daniel Island properties (259 Seven Farms Drive), the Taylor Agency, an existing tenant, decided to take advantage of the newly available space to expand their firm’s presence.
“They bought the suite the week after they moved out,” said White. “That just tells you what a premier location we have, how busy the island is, how strategically important Seven Farms Drive is to the island, and how this building really fit in well, once it was taken care of properly.”
259 Seven Farms Drive
When an opportunity came about for White to take ownership of another building just down the street, 259 Seven Farms Drive, he jumped at the chance. The building’s first floor tenants, Daniel Island Grille and WHITE, seemed to be successful, but the second and third floors appeared vacant for years.
“Literally, I drove by it for 10 years and just kept looking at it,” said White. “I thought ‘Why is it vacant? Boy, it could be better.’ It just needed some love and quite frankly some local sponsorship.”
White enlisted help from his Charleston Industrial team and made the purchase. They immediately got to work making improvements to the structure, such as finishing out the second and third floors, painting the outside railings and stairwells a bright red to match the brick exterior, and adding a main sign for the building. In the space of three months, they invested $3 million into the property. Ameriprise now occupies the second floor and the Maron Law Firm (Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy LLC) occupies the third floor after relocating to Daniel Island from downtown Charleston.
“It was an opportunity to create value,” he said. “Within three months it went to 100 percent occupancy, so that just tells you the strength of the draw of Daniel Island when you put quality real estate in his location, you’re going to attract quality tenants.”
“….There is certainly an element of risk involved,” continued White. “At the end of the day, we ended up with a great asset that I think services Daniel Island, and takes a building that had been neglected and on its way to blight and put it back into life. I think a lot can be said for that.”
245 Seven Farms Drive
White is expected to close this month on the purchase of suite 100 in the building next door, located at 245 Seven Farms Drive. The space was formerly occupied by the Juice Bar.
“They made a business decision that the business was not going to be sustainable,” he said. “…That space has never really worked for a sit down restaurant-type place. The parking is the achilles heal.”
White is in negotiations with a potential new tenant for the space, a company he believes will be a perfect addition to the island’s commercial offerings. He hopes to make an announcement about the business very soon.
Starbucks and BIN 526
Perhaps the project generating the most excitement for White and his business partner Bill Hoffman, also a Daniel Island resident, is the new Starbucks and BIN 526 complex planned for 20 Fairchild Street in the island’s town center area. White and Hoffman are developing the 10,000 square foot structure, which will be located behind the new Refuel gas station and convenience mart. The “super size Starbucks” will feature a larger store than most of the company’s other locations, said White, and also an expansive outdoor patio and seating area.
“This has been a labor of love,” added White. “I tried to do the Starbucks about four years ago (in a different Daniel Island location) and it would have been great. But by the grace of God it didn’t work and I ended up with a much better location….Starbucks was so excited about all of the growth on Daniel Island. Almost half a billion dollars of investment and development is going on around us in about a one mile radius.”
“What’s interesting to me regarding the population growth, and I’ve had offices all over the country, is the percentage increase on Daniel Island right now,” said Hoffman, managing partner of BIN 526. “…It’s probably about a 25 percent increase in a two year period. That’s just amazing. Obviously the population has been moving here and loves it…And now the services are going to come in, which we all want.”
While Starbucks will lease space in the new building, White and Hoffman will own BIN 526, a space that will include a spirits store, a retail wine shop and wine bar, comfortable seating areas, and a tasting room that can accommodate up to 50 people.
“What we tried to do was create a retail wine shop that was great in and of itself, but then place on top of it a wine bar that can function on its own and would be a destination place for people on the island,” said Hoffman.
“We could have easily just been a landlord investor like we are in this (225 Seven Farms Drive) building and the other buildings and found businesses,” added White. “But he loves wine, I love wine, the (Daniel Island) Club will fill a ball room for a wine tasting. There is clearly a demand on the island. We love educating people about wine, so we just said ‘let’s go for it!’”
For Hoffman, who has spent much of his adult life seeking our wine bars when traveling, it was a natural fit.
“I’ve always had a passion for it,” he said. “This is everything I have seen over the years coming to fruition, and Mike has just been wonderful (to work with)…We feel like we’re aligned and that what we’re going to build is going to be very unique and something that the island does not have.”
They anticipate a ground-breaking for 20 Fairchild Street in May with an opening planned in late fall.
“We see this as a bit of a ‘gift back,’” White added. “…Are we paying more than we should? Yes. Is it much more expensive than it needs to be? Yes. But again this has become a statement back to say Daniel Island has given us a lot and we want to give back, too. This is going to be a real asset to the community. And if we can have fun doing it, even better.”
As for future plans, White says he and his team at Charleston Industrial will spend the rest of this year focused on getting his latest project up and running, but his eyes are always open to new possibilities.
“I’d much rather invest on Main Street than on Wall Street,” said White. “I’d much rather be involved with projects where I live, and be able to drive by them and check on them and just have that personal touch, and do it in concert with fellow Daniel Islanders like Bill (Hoffman), who cares as deeply and passionately about the betterment of the island as I do.”