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Growth spurt: Here’s how city of Mauldin’s growth doubled and why it will happen again

  • Rebecca Carey
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MAULDIN — A year ago, developer Jack Shaw’s land at Interstate 385 and East Butler Road included a half-mile paved loop around an empty, 10-acre field. Today it is the site of BB&T’s 140,000-square-foot, 700-employee mortgage center.

Where an abandoned shoe store stood last fall on Main Street in Mauldin, a Starbucks cafe has quietly been setting up shop, riding a culinary wave that has included local newcomers Tropical Grill, Chicora Alley, Caesars Mediterranean and Crave Coffee to the city.

More: With thousands of homes in the works, Mauldin poised for a residential boom

And more than 140 acres of dense woodland cradled between the Reedy River and Butler Road to Mauldin’s west is set to be annexed and transformed into a sprawling residential development. The developer is actively working with Mauldin on his plans there.

You might say that Mauldin — once known as "Butler’s Crossroads" and still described broadly as a drive-through bedroom community — is going through a growth spurt.

It’s not by accident, and the city’s community development director, Van Broad, says it’s long overdue. City leaders are intent on losing their suburban vibe and becoming a smaller version of their popular and fast-growing neighbor: Greenville.

"Greenville has a phenomenal story to tell," Broad said. "I think Mauldin does, too. We are not where Greenville is, but I think we will be."

Construction spending in Mauldin nearly doubled from 2014 to 2017, from $18 million to $31 million, according to a Greenville News analysis of city permit data.

Data courtesy of Mauldin’s Business and Development Services Office.

(Photo: Anna B. Mitchell)

And while residential growth in recent years has held relatively steady at the $6 million to $8 million mark, the greatest strides have been in commercial — which more than doubled since 2014, from $9.7 million to $25.2 million in 2017. A few of the biggest developments include:

BB&T’s new mortgage center, a $30 million investment that started operations in early 2018,Verizon Wireless’s $3.5 million expansion in 2017, which added 260 jobs,MP Husky’s new $5.2 million, 152,000-square foot plant under construction now on Old Stage Road and set to bring more than 150 jobs to Mauldin,Morley Companies’ new call center on Brookfield Parkway, a $1.7 million investment that created 270 jobs in 2017, Anyone Home’s new operations center, also on Brookfield Parkway, a $1.1 million investment that created 570 jobs in 2017, and Caristrap International’s new corporate headquarters on Brookfield Oaks Drive, a $5.5 million investment that will create 100 jobs.

"That’s pretty significant," Broad says. "And we’ve got more coming."

Some of the city of Mauldin’s major commercial and residential projects going into 2018.

(Photo: Anna B. Mitchell / Greenville County GIS)

Mauldin’s emerging identity

Mauldin got its name 128 years ago in honor of the man, Lt. Gov. W.L. Mauldin, who brought a train depot to Butler’s Crossroads.

A rail line still runs through downtown, but this is actually car country.

Mauldin is bounded roughly by Interstate 85 to the north, Interstate 385 to the east, Interstate 185 to the south and the Reedy River to the west. Businesses catering to drive-through clientele set up shop in strip malls over the decades, and 1970s and ’80s-era auto lots and tire stores along Main Street complete the picture of a motor city — a pass-through town.

And while the city has grown to just over 25,000 people in recent years, "Mauldin" is not the city listed on everyone’s address here. Parts of Mauldin share zip codes with neighboring Greenville and Simpsonville, and it’s those cities whose names get on the address label.

It wreaks havoc on the city’s identity and even caused Councilman Taft Matney some trouble when he first ran for office in 2013. He lives inside Mauldin city limits but has a Greenville mailing address, prompting some voters at the time to challenge his qualifications. The Brookfield office complex, also in Mauldin and featuring such high-profile tenants as Verizon, also has a Greenville mailing address.

Mauldin Elementary, meanwhile, has a Simpsonville zip code.

"We don’t want to be gobbled up by cities beside us," Broad said.

The issue carries over to some of the businesses city leaders have lured. To avoid confusion, the city has politely pushed back when corporate citizens such as Esurance have identified with Greenville.

"It’s not infrequent that we have to do that, when you see those major economic development announcements," said Matney, who also heads up the city’s economic development committee.

The Shopping Center Group out of Charlotte is using this rendering in marketing materials for BridgeWay Station in Mauldin, previously known as CenterPointe Business Park. (Photo: Provided)
Mauldin has a growth formula

Mauldin’s leaders credit the city’s growth spurt to a collective and growing pride in its identity and a newly aggressive marketing plan — coupled with two priceless assets: fortunate geography just off three interstates near Greenville and a lowest-in-the-county municipal tax rate.

Municipal Millage Rate
Greer: .09780Travelers Rest: .09010Greenville: .08530Fountain Inn: .07610Simpsonville: .06360Mauldin: .05630

To spread Mauldin’s story, Broad successfully increased the city’s marketing budget ten-fold to about $150,000 since he came on board in 2015. His in-house team has bought radio spots and regional billboard space to promote events and placed print and online ads in regional and national publications to tout the city as a prime place to live and do business.

"All that is hugely important," Broad said. "And believing in what you are selling."

The result in 2017: Nerdwallet named Mauldin one of the 10 best cities to start a business. The Palmetto Promise Institute ranked Mauldin the second most enterprise-friendly city in South Carolina. And Money Magazine recognized Mauldin as one of the “Best Places to Live” in the United States, citing among other things, its good workforce and low property taxes.

City leaders are also determined to not allow its neighbors to encroach on Mauldin’s territory. Clemson University’s International Center of Automotive Research is a $250 million hub of public and private research just off U.S. 276 that still has 200 acres of undeveloped land. The city of Greenville annexed ICAR more than a decade ago — starting a creep of annexation up 276 toward Mauldin that Broad says his adopted hometown never should have let happen.

"ICAR is in the city of Greenville, but it’s really in Mauldin," Broad said. "If you look at that, we should have annexed all the way up to 85. Kudos to Greenville, they came down and annexed it."

These days Mauldin is undergoing its own round of annexations up U.S. 276 and West Butler — thereby knocking on Greenville’s door. This winter, the city annexed 89 acres around Forrester Drive about a mile from ICAR. The city is poised to annex another 140 acres this year on West Butler/Mauldin Road — also about a mile from the Greenville city line.

Business comes first

Chris Zimmerman, vice president for economic development at Smart Growth America, said many former or current bedroom communities such as Mauldin are pushing to diversify their tax base beyond residential, a tall task for a town without an obvious commercial core.

The CenterPointe commercial park along Interstate 385 in Mauldin near Bridges Road is only partially developed.

(Photo: Anna B. Mitchell/Staff)

"Their tax base is the residential property they have, which is homeowners, which is not a good thing if you are trying to make ends meet," Zimmerman said. "You can only raise taxes or cut services, which makes life not fun as a public official."

Large businesses and individual entrepreneurs have taken note of the receptive business environment and relatively low costs in Mauldin, Chamber of Commerce President Pat Pomeroy said. Her office presided over 50 ribbon cuttings for new businesses over the past two years.

Consider this: First-floor retail space along Greenville’s Main Street goes for just under $40 a square foot, according to recent listings, whereas commercial space near the crossroads of Main Street and Butler Road — Mauldin’s commercial center — goes for under $7 a square foot.

It’s something that Crave Coffee co-owner Julie Ellis and business partner Mark Bergstrom, who opened their cafe in November and have operated Seasons Catering nearby on East Butler for four years, noticed. Ellis said they broke with the trend to open shop in downtown Greenville because Mauldin is so affordable. It’s also close to a growing lunch crowd, is easy to get to and has plenty of parking, Ellis said. She lives two miles from Mauldin, and her businesses are both on East Butler.

"Everybody is downtown," Ellis said. "We want to build our own community based on where we live and are most comfortable. We love Mauldin."

Bergstrom said he likes how Mauldin still feels small. The mayor eats at his restaurant, and city staff are constantly praising his food, he said.

"They do a lot of work tying the businesses together, for instance encouraging BB&T to do catering, coffee, ice cream with us," Bergstrom said. "They network this area very well."

Bill Mauritz, vice president of finance for cable tray maker MP Husky, said he likes knowing he can pick up the phone and talk to someone at City Hall to sort out tax credits, permits or whatever. His company is moving its plant from Greenville to Mauldin this year.

"I think the biggest thing is they got involved with us early on," Mauritz said. "They see the direct, vested interest we have in getting projects done quickly."

Data courtesy of Mauldin’s Business and Development Services Office.

Broad said he follows up on every lead that comes his way, working closely with Upstate SC Alliance, the state Department of Commerce and the Greenville Area Development Corporation. He even took a tip about an unincorporated parcel on Forrester Drive — the one near ICAR that Mauldin recently annexed — from the city’s fire chief. The chief had struck up a conversation with a woman near the scene of a call and she mentioned she wanted to sell.

"I called her; we had a great conversation," Broad said. "I partnered her up with a developer working on another parcel, and lo and behold, it happened.

"That started with our fire chief, who was sensitive enough and aware enough to contact me."

How Mauldin is cashing In

Mauldin still has plenty of room to grow, and to do so, has drawn up some ambitious plans to carve out a new downtown.

In its annual audit, released last July, the city reported that it had lost just under $33 million in consumer sales from Mauldin residents spending their money outside the city.

"It’s an under-served market," Broad said.

Longtime resident Brian Daughhetee sees it, too. He said he’d still like to see more diverse eateries.

"There are some good restaurants out there," Daughhetee said. "Mauldin is growing so fast, but the mindset is still to go to Greenville."

Another resident, Mary Baugh, said she never dines in Mauldin.

"I want to keep more of my money in the city I live in," Baugh said. "The things I want to do are not always in the city where I pay taxes in."

To counter that reality for some, the City Council has approved a series of planning and zoning changes over the past nine months to redevelop a portion of downtown as a walkable, mixed-use village for shopping, dining and apartments. The goal is to establish a stronger identity for residents and commercial prospects so they will both spend their dollars in town.

Last summer, and continuing into this spring, the city established a moratorium on new construction inside the area, located at Main Street and Butler Road. And in the fall, council members designated 25 acres at and around City Hall as Mauldin’s Central Redevelopment District (CRD). Meanwhile, the city is entertaining proposals from private developers for redeveloping the new central district, a deal sweetened with major city and county tax incentives approved in July.

If it all comes together, downtown could shoot up in value with modern, multi-story retail, office, apartment and park space potentially replacing — or at least upgrading — the single-story coin laundry, detail shop, bank branches and 3.6 acres of 30-year-old mini-storage units, among other small businesses, that occupy the real estate around Mauldin City Hall today.

"Greenville has done that," Broad said. "Greenville has great quality of life. Businesses like to identify with that. That’s as important as anything else."

At the same time, the city is bringing in more cultural activities.

Aiken native Keira Kitchings has been Mauldin Cultural Center director for 18 months after running arts programs in York County, Jacksonville, Florida, and Fountain Inn. She has expanded arts lessons and programming there while also presiding over $1 million in improvements to the building and grounds. Much of the city’s advertising — which she helps design — has been for her events.

Empty classrooms in the center, a former elementary school, have given way to pottery and multimedia art studios; freshly painted halls ring with voice, piano, flute and guitar lessons on Tuesday nights; and the auditorium will soon have new flooring and seating.

"When I drove through Mauldin the first time, I thought, ‘I don’t really know — it’s a small town, not a lot going on,’" Kitchings said. "But when I had my interview, the whole team from Mauldin, like six people, they talked about all the changes they wanted to bring.

"And it was a blank slate."

Soon the blank slate will include more hotels, too, and houses and retail and not just downtown.

A $10 to $15 million Courtyard by Marriott project announced seven months ago is set to break ground this year just off Interstate 385 and Butler Road, Broad said. And the million-square-foot BridgeWay Station project, less than a mile south at Bridges Road and 385, is also set to break ground this summer. The Shopping Center Group out of Charlotte, North Carolina, is currently marketing BridgeWay for retail, housing, office and hotel space.

More: Mauldin to break ground on new Courtyard by Marriott hotel in 2018

All told, commercial activity, especially along 385, could double again in 2018 and perhaps again in 2019 — and multiple residential developments are in the pipeline, too, says Broad.

Said Taft: "Our potential is about to be realized."

Growing Greenville

This is part of an ongoing series about the Upstate’s rapid growth and the challenges and benefits it brings. Greenville, frequently named one of the best places to live in the country, is the fourth-fastest growing city in the country and that growth is fueling rapid change throughout the Upstate. Our coverage will look at how those changes affect your life, livelihood and quality of living in the metropolitan area that is anchored by Greenville.

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