As a boy, Sean Hartness regularly visited his father and grandfather at the Pepsi bottling plant they owned on an industrial corridor outside downtown Greenville.
“It was rough,” he said..
It is still.
But Hartness has some plans. He’s going to take the long-abandoned Pepsi bottling plant on Poinsett Highway and turn it into the centerpiece of what he’s calling an Innovation District, 7 acres and possibly three more buildings, for people with dreams: Entrepreneurs, company owners, people who need a place to start a business and grow it.
The renovation is expected to cost between $60 million and $75 million and be phased over the next several years.
Included in the tract is the land where former Greenville Mayor Max Heller swept floors in a shirt manufacturing company after he fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1938. He had $1.60 when he got off the boat. Ultimately, he started two shirt companies and sold the last to dedicate himself to public service. He died in 2011 at 92.
Hartness described Heller as a “legendary” mayor who in the 1970s began the transformation of a downtrodden downtown Greenville that led to what it is today.
Hartness considers his project a continuation of the legacy of the land, where two Greenville entrepreneurs worked and succeeded far beyond where they ever thought they could go.
His great-grandfather was an inventor who devised innovative machines for packing soft drinks.
The first building of the new development, Crescent 1, is at least 75% leased already, Hartness said.
Flywheel, a North Carolina designer of coworking spaces, will be a major partner in the project, as will Furman University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the South Carolina Research Authority, and VentureSouth.
The Innovation District project will also include a fitness center and coffee house, among other tenants.
Hartness said internships for students will be run out of the building.
“This place will provide everyone access to the resources and connections necessary to successfully launch and grow their venture,” said Anthony Herrera, chief innovation officer at Furman University.
He said it will be a community focused on education, work and economic development.
Hartness said groundbreaking will be early next year with the renovation expected to be complete by year’s end.
He hopes the project will be a catalyst for a resurgence of a long neglected part of Greenville County between downtown Greenville and Furman University.
A shed will be renovated for an event space.
Hartness also owns additional property, which could expand the project to 20 acres.