WestEdge taking shape

July 18, 2018
The WestEdge development is going up between Riley Park and the Medical District. Provided

The life sciences play an outsize role in South Carolina’s economic plans. Though small compared to other sectors the state is targeting, the life sciences have huge potential. 

 A 2017 report commissioned by the S.C. Biotechnology Industry Organization and the S.C. Research Authority found employment in the life sciences — companies like AmbioPharm, Nutramax Laboratories, and Bausch + Lomb — grew by twice as much as overall state employment since 2005. For every 10 jobs in the life sciences, 19 jobs in other sectors are created. 

The city of Charleston and MUSC want those life sciences jobs to come here. 

It’s the main idea behind WestEdge, the development taking shape between Riley Park and the Crosstown. Though the development includes apartments, office space, retail and restaurants, the heart of the project is its relationship to the medical district and economic development, said Michael Maher, CEO of WestEdge Foundation. MUSC and the city of Charleston founded the WestEdge Foundation to shepherd the development and they hold a majority of the seats on the board.  

“This was never simply about redeveloping this side (of town),” Maher said. 

In a presentation he gives around town, he reminds people that Charleston was originally settled on the banks of the Ashley River, at Charles Towne Landing. But the settlers’ main purpose was to develop a working port, so they soon picked up and moved to the peninsula to take advantage of the deep Cooper River, he said. 

“They had the audacity and ambition to say, ‘Let’s move our settlement from there to here,’ and to me that is a very clear indication of what makes Charleston ‘Charleston.’ They didn’t move there to find a quaint southern town that would be a great place to retire to and a great place to travel to. They were trying to create an economic powerhouse,” Maher said. 

Fostering innovation 

Today, innovation must be woven throughout the heart and soul of MUSC — being a good medical school and a good hospital isn’t enough, leaders say.   

Michael Rusnak, executive director of the MUSC Foundation for Research Development, said innovation speaks to MUSC’s mission of patient care. Lots of people here have good ideas that would improve patient care. The key is to get those ideas to the bedside. As federal research dollars continue to shrink, the university must find those dollars elsewhere. Start-ups are one possibility. Finally, innovation begets innovation. To be known as a top university and to recruit and retain the best people requires an innovation mindset, Rusnak said. 

“The best faculty are going only to those universities that are innovative,” he said. 

As a bonus, every once in a while, a university hits the jackpot. The University of Florida, according to ESPN.com, has netted more than $280 million since 1967 in royalties from Gatorade, which was developed by researchers there for use by the football team. That example, though, is far from the norm, Rusnak cautions.  

Instead, as he considers WestEdge, Rusnak looks to Georgia Tech’s Tech Square and the Cambridge Innovation Center in Massachusetts as inspiration. 

Tech Square, opened in 2003, now boasts a who’s-who of companies with innovation offices — the Panasonic Innovation Center, the Boeing Manufacturing Development Center, and an AT&T Foundry, among others. It has the “highest density of startups, corporate innovators and academic researchers in the entire southeastern United States,” which encourages interaction among researchers, venture capitalists, students and entrepreneurs, according to its website. It is no coincidence that the lead developer at WestEdge, Gateway Development, was an instrumental player in the creation of Tech Square.  

Density and interaction are also key to the Cambridge Innovation Center. The center offers office and co-working space to hundreds of companies that want to work in a space buzzing with creativity. A one-person company can rent a single cubicle if that’s all that’s needed, Rusnak said. 

“Everybody wants to go in there because they get to talk to other innovators, they get to talk to other folks that are in the same business,” Rusnak said. 

It’s that sort of cross-fertilization of ideas — with a biotech and life sciences emphasis — that leaders are hoping to create at WestEdge. 

From Horizon to WestEdge 

First dubbed ‘Horizon’ when it was conceived 15 years ago, WestEdge was delayed in part by the Great Recession. Now, with the first building open and occupied, the project has picked up momentum. Maher said he expects the bulk of the district to be completed by 2030, though a special tax district to boost the development lasts through 2038. 

Although the development is guided by a vision set by MUSC and the city, the buildings are being built by private developers, Maher said. Infrastructure improvements, including new roads and drainage upgrades, are being funded through the use of tax increment financing, or a TIF. Essentially, money has been borrowed to pay for those improvements. It will be repaid from the property taxes of the new buildings.  

The buildings 

The initial phase consists of three buildings and infrastructure improvements.  

Already, more than 100 apartments have been leased at 99 WestEdge, known as The Caroline, and the first businesses, a donut shop and a fitness studio, have opened. Located across from Riley Park, The Caroline includes apartments, ground-level retail and a parking deck whose spaces are allocated in thirds — one-third for the city, one-third for the building and one-third for MUSC.  

Apartments are expected to be ready for lease this fall at 10 WestEdge, at the corner of Lockwood Boulevard and Spring Street, and the Publix should be open in that building in October. The building will also house restaurants and a day spa. 

Construction began this month on the third building, 22 WestEdge. It will have retail on the ground floor, but the remainder of the eight-story building will be office and lab space, including incubator space for the S.C. Research Authority and 25,000 square feet for MUSC Bioinformatics. 

The development is meant to be a “live, learn, earn” space. The new WestEdge Street is modeled after Las Ramblas, wide pedestrian thoroughfares, in Barcelona. There will be seating for outdoor dining and a wide sidewalk to allow for strolling. Eventually, Maher said, WestEdge Street will be like a King Street for the Westside. 


Much of the land in question has been gravel parking lots for years because no one wanted to deal with the property’s problems. The entire site was originally marsh. It was filled in, and between 1952 and 1972, it was used as a dump for everything from municipal trash to medical waste. And, of course, it floods.  

A gravel parking lot is hardly the “highest and best” use of land on the peninsula, Maher said. For MUSC employees, though, parking is a critical need. 

The number of parking spaces for MUSC will ebb and flow throughout the life of the project as construction moves to different spots. 

MUSC lost spaces at what are now 10 and 22 WestEdge. But WestEdge restriped and reorganized the Hagood lot, which increased capacity there from about 900 to 1,120 spaces. Reorganizing an adjacent city parking lot meant the city didn’t need to use the Hagood lot for overflow, opening more spaces for MUSC employees.  

There are 322 parking spaces in The Caroline’s garage allocated for MUSC. These are not free spaces like Hagood but are guaranteed, paid spots, said John Runyon, director of business services at MUSC. However, parkers will be charged the off-campus rate for these spots, meaning they’ll get a $25 per month discount.  

The parking garage opened June 1. Runyon expects it to be filled up by August or September. 

In the long term, the Hagood parking lot will be developed as well, but whether that happens in two years, five years or 10 years, it’s too early to say, Runyon said. There will be garages to allow for parking, though. “MUSC will have substantial parking north of Spring Street for many years to come,” he said. 

To get employees from those parking lots to the main campus, Runyon oversees the shuttle system. But, he acknowledges, many people don’t bother with the shuttles and instead cross Spring Street at their own risk. With all the one-way streets, the shuttles follow a convoluted route.

“If there were a connection at Hagood, directly across Spring and Cannon, the MUSC bus would be much more efficient,” Runyon said. 

So the city and MUSC are championing an idea to create an intersection at the now-vacant Wendy’s that would connect Hagood Avenue to Bravo Street, which runs between the MUSC Wellness Center and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. The connection would give people a safe path from Fishburne Street to Calhoun Street and would improve the shuttle routes, Runyon said. The WestEdge Foundation, MUSC and the city are currently funding traffic simulations to justify the intersection, Maher said.

The tide is in 

Charleston Police regularly announce that Hagood Avenue is closed because of flooding. Sometimes there’s been torrential rain. Sometimes it’s just because the tide is in. 

Maher said WestEdge is investing substantially in fixing the flooding problem, not just within the WestEdge boundaries but on surrounding streets. 

The new roads have been raised, partly to rise above flood level and partly to allow for the technical requirements of a ground stabilization system to prevent sinkage. A new system will collect all stormwater, including roof runoff, and channel it to the river. 

WestEdge is also fixing a problem that’s been around for decades along Lockwood Boulevard. 

Maher said Lockwood was built without drainage, so stormwater ran over the private property that was Crosby’s Seafood into catch basins. 

When construction at 10 WestEdge began and those catch basins were removed, flooding on Lockwood got worse. Lockwood is a state road, under the jurisdiction of the S.C. Department of 

Transportation. Since drainage on Lockwood isn’t a high priority for SCDOT, Maher said, WestEdge is taking on the expense of adding a stormwater drainage system for the road. “We should have it solved by end of August,” he said. 

Collaborative spirit

With the ceremonial groundbreaking for 22 WestEdge scheduled for Aug. 2, anticipation is building. 

Besides the medical district, the property is also near The Citadel and the College of Charleston. Already the college has purchased a building on Lockwood Boulevard formerly occupied by the S.C. Employment Securities Commission. 

Rusnak said he could even envision the University of South Carolina and Clemson University having offices in the development. “I see 22 WestEdge as a starting point, a catalyst to start getting WestEdge to be an innovation hub for the medical university,” he said.