The transition began in the early 1990s after the International Longshoremen’s Association moved its local headquarters to Morrison Drive. It was accelerated by the construction of the Ravenel Bridge, which opened up a new area of the Charleston peninsula. It ramped up further with the debut of a Taco Boy restaurant on Huger Street, and suddenly what had once been home to the city’s auto mile had become its new frontier.
“It’s taken 20 years, but we knew with the transformation of the auto mile going to Savannah Highway that all of this property was going to be valuable and usable very soon,” says David Ingle, partner at the commercial real estate firm NAI Charleston. “Obviously, Charleston is unique in that it’s a peninsula, and there’s only one way development could go. And as the years have progressed, that is what’s happened.”
Once called “the Neck” and now better known as “NoMo,” the north Morrison Drive/north Meeting Street corridor has seen an explosion of growth—with apartment buildings, office complexes, restaurants, breweries and other businesses taking advantage of the greater accessibility and ample parking the district affords. NAI Charleston has been at the forefront of that movement, facilitating deals in the area since that landmark ILA move in the 1990s, and even relocating its headquarters to the region.
“You have businesses looking to move out of the central business district and have better access to the market, newer space, more efficiencies and better parking,” says Thomas Boulware, NAI Charleston partner and broker-in-charge. “That's what attracted us to this part of town when we rebranded our company in 2017. We have a very collaborative office space, which reflects how our company operates as professionals. We were previously located in the Lower Peninsula, but we felt that, as a real estate company, we needed better access to the submarkets where we conduct business.”
The ‘efficient business district’
From its headquarters at 141 Williman St. in the heart of NoMo—near restaurants like Edmunds Oast and Home Team BBQ—NAI Charleston has become a fixture in the area’s revival. The firm currently has nine available listings in NoMo, along with three deals under contract, and has closed countless deals over the last few years. Its partners and brokers have long been active in the area, offering unrivaled experience in a burgeoning commercial and residential district.
“The services on the Lower Peninsula are now rapidly coming here,” says veteran broker Jack Owens. “You have a flatiron hotel, 190 rooms and nine stories, right on the point at Morrison and Meeting streets. Foundry Point development is 15 acres and 600 apartments. There’s retail in Foundry and retail in The Rumney, which is a boutique apartment complex under construction at 695 Meeting. You’re seeing a lot of owner-occupied businesses starting to pop up—741 Meeting St. was purchased by Middle Street Partners for their corporate headquarters.” Owens calls NoMo the “efficient business district” in a nod to its easier access and parking options when compared to the Lower Peninsula. The concept of this region becoming a “central business district” came from pioneering developer Steve Zoukis—who was among the first to spur growth in the area. The availability of warehouses and other buildings that could be converted into contemporary office space proved irresistible to the tech firms that now populate the district, a shift that presaged the apartments and restaurants to come.
“The peninsula was always the core business district for downtown Charleston, and historically it's had a 3 to 5 percent vacancy rate, which created too many barriers to entry for young progressive companies,” says partner Dexter Rumsey. “It was full of traditional companies—law firms, real estate, and insurance. Savvy development groups, such as The Raven Cliff Company, recognized the demand and converted old warehouses to efficient office space.”
Apartment buildings, facilitated by more relaxed height restrictions than those found on the Lower Peninsula, began to come online. Restaurants, office space, and retail space under apartment buildings—such as at 601 Meeting, under Meeting Street Lofts—began to entice a younger demographic to the area.
“With the emergence of the tech office market in the area, developers soon followed, building apartments to accommodate the younger demographic that works there,” said veteran broker Will Sherrod. “That, along with more reasonable development guidelines and increased height allowances, has fueled the apartment construction. The retail components in these developments provide much needed daily services to those renters and the workforce, becoming vital to the continued growth and success of the area.”
A unique place on the peninsula
NoMo has since sprouted one development after another, with many of the transactions facilitated by NAI Charleston. Condos at 100 Cool Blow, tech space at 804 Meeting St., Palmetto Brewing at 289 Huger St., multi-use like The Rumney and at 538 Meeting, former industrial sites like 70 Romney St., a flatiron-style hotel that’s in the works—all emblematic of how efficient and livable the NoMo area has become.
Baker & Brewer, a joint venture between Evo Pizzeria and Holy City Brewing at 94 Stuart St., is further evidence of the region’s potential. Once the site of an older industrial building, it is now a newly constructed restaurant, brewery and entertainment venue on nearly an acre. With ample outdoor space used for dining and live music, Baker & Brewer attracts residents from the surrounding neighborhoods as well as the peninsula, Mt. Pleasant, North Charleston and beyond. “Its size, outdoor dining and entertainment really make it one of the more unique places on the peninsula,” says NAI Charleston partner David Grubbs, who facilitated the deal.
The same could be said of the NoMo district overall. Streetscaping will make the area more appealing to runners and cyclists. The Low Line project will connect it to the Lower Peninsula. Nearby major developments, Magnolia and Morrison Yard promise to increase interest. The Laurel Island project could bring a new bridge to upper Meeting Street. NAI brokers expect banks, smaller grocery stores, and other new businesses to invest in the area in the coming years.
Indeed, the former auto mile has come a long way. And NAI Charleston has been there for every step—not just as deal-makers, but as residents and neighbors to the other businesses that call NoMo home.
“We frequently walk to restaurants like Butcher and Bee and Goat Sheep Cow, which is just one of the reasons we enjoy our location,” Ingle says. “And when we hear, ‘Our law firm should move up here from the peninsula’ every single week, it gives us a reassuring level of comfort that this area will be in business for a long time.”
Interested in learning more about commercial real estate availability in one of the fastest-growing areas of the Charleston peninsula? Contact NAI Charleston at (843) 720-4944, view their available properties online or visit their website at NAICharleston.com for further information.