The Clemson University ties of a senior executive of Hillwood Investment Properties were a crucial factor in the office and industrial property development company’s decision to roll the dice on creating a 750-acre business park near Interstate 26 in Berkeley County.
They also helped to ensure the project remained under the radar until all the agreements were sealed and construction at the development, called Charleston Trade Center, was about to begin.
“Those relationships mean more to me than anything,” said Gary Frederick, senior vice president of Hillwood Investment Properties.
“If I’d been a lowly (University of South Carolina) Gamecock, I don’t know that we would’ve gotten this done,” he laughed.
Frederick, born and raised in Deerfield Beach, Fla., graduated from Clemson in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He returned to the state in 1997 to oversee development of Disney Direct Marketing’s worldwide distribution center in Union County.
At the time, Frederick was working for a joint venture called Panattoni Hillwood, and when the joint venture parted, he joined Hillwood proper, hoping for another chance to do a big project in his adopted state.
In 2002, he thought the opportunity had arrived, but it would be another five years before he’d set up shop in the Lowcountry.
“Our first look at this area, and in fact, at this exact site, which is located between exits 194 and 199 near the Piggly Wiggly Distribution Center, was when Mercedes was seriously considering the area for its manufacturing plant,” Frederick said.
“It looked pretty serious. The state had acquired all the options on the land, dubbing the effort Project Bluebell, and our plan was to build a commerce park adjacent to the site that would be home to Mercedes’ suppliers.”
After the Mercedes deal fell through, the state released its options on the land. But Frederick didn’t forget the site. When he learned it was still available in early 2005, he decided the time might be right to take a gamble on a speculative project.
“By then we had seen the emergence of the East Coast ports in the global supply chain and the S.C. State Ports Authority’s investments in expansion were becoming obvious,” Frederick said. “A giant bridge was standing over the harbor, and it appeared that the Navy base terminal was going forward.
“Basically, it seemed like the stage was set for the Port of Charleston to be an increasingly important port in the United States, and I knew we could benefit from the due diligence the state had already performed in regard to the site.”
That’s when Frederick began to work closely with Carlyle Blakeney, another Clemson alum who also happened to be a broker at Palmetto Commercial Real Estate. Soon he was engaged in serious discussions with two other alumni of the university, attorney Neil C. Robinson Jr., of Nexsen Pruett Jacobs and Pollard in Charleston and then-Berkeley County Supervisor Jim Rosier.
But Clemson’s ties to the development deal didn’t end there. As it happened, the largest landowner involved in the sale was Tom Salisbury, a member of Clemson’s 1948 Southern Conference Championship football team. Salisbury passed away after Hillwood contracted for the land.
While Frederick often jokes about the importance of his university ties, they were critically important in allowing a relative outsider “to get on the inside.”