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Growth: Redevelopment company buys troubled Pawleys Island Plaza

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The largest shopping center in the Pawleys Island business district is under new ownership. A redevelopment is proposed, but details have not been announced.

Sunbelt Ventures of Charleston acquired Pawleys Island Plaza last week. The center was scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps next week, but the previous owners, Mickey and Beverly Stikas, transferred the property in a deed in lieu of foreclosure last week.

Sunbelt Ventures bought the mortgage to the plaza in March. The price was not disclosed, but the foreclosure action sought $5.3 million in principal, interest and fees.

“We just took title to it, so it’s happened really quickly,” said Dusty Wiederhold, a managing partner in Sunbelt Ventures. “We worked out a settlement with Mr. and Mrs. Stikas.”

Wiederhold said he wasn’t prepared to discuss plans for the center this week, but added “it’s all going to happen pretty quickly.”

Sunbelt Ventures has a permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to do voluntary cleanup on the 10.7-acre site on Highway 17 south of Waverly Road. It’s for an environmental assessment for redevelopment.

The Stikases got approval from Georgetown County in 2008 to renovate the shopping center, which was built in 1986 for an A&P grocery store. The chain converted the store to its Farmer Jack brand, then sold the brand in 1995 to Food Lion, which closed the Pawleys Island store but held on to the lease.

Without an anchor store, the complex suffered.

Sunbelt Ventures specializes in redevelopment. One of its projects was Inlet Square Mall. Its other projects list national retailers such as Lowe’s, Publix, K-Mart and Sam’s Club.

“This is what we have been doing for 35 years,” Weiderhold said.

Paweys Island Plaza was originally approved as a “planned development” with 83,950 square feet of space. Just over 77,000 square feet were built. Mickey Stikas got county approval in 2008 to increase the amount of space to 100,600 square feet.

But that space isn’t all under one roof, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. He has had “informal discussions” with Wiederhold and others interested in the property.

Part of the additional space approved in 2008 was for a restaurant that was proposed for the front of the property and would have extended over a stormwater retention pond.

“There’s no way you could do a big-box there without going back to the Planning Commission and County Council,” Johnson said. “Let’s say there was a big-box that needed 102,000 square feet. We wouldn’t just write the permit.”

The county limits retail stores in the Highway 17 corridor to 40,000 square feet, but that can be altered in a planned development. An effort to build a 137,000-square-foot Lowe’s in a planned development on Highway 17 at the South Causeway in 2005 was defeated after vigorous community opposition under the banner “Don’t Box the Neck.”

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said he has concerns that another big-box store may be proposed for Pawleys Island Plaza. Although outside the town limits, the area is a gateway for the town, just like the South Causeway.

“The Waccamaw Neck and County Council have already addressed the issue of big-box stores with the proposed Lowe’s,” Otis said. “With another big-box, I believe the outcry would be as significant.”

Traffic is one area that will be a concern if there is a proposal to change the plan that’s already approved for the property, Johnson said. “How would a thriving shopping center affect the traffic?” he asked. “You’ve got a shopping center that’s not thriving.”

Pawleys Island Plaza was built before the county adopted the size limit and before design standards were approved for commercial projects within the Highway 17 corridor. “If somebody like a big-box chain comes in there, we would take the same approach that we took with Lowe’s,” Johnson said, requiring extensive landscape buffers and a compatible design. “This is an opportunity to get something that’s aesthetically pleasing.”

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