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Walmart: Property deal ends suit over plaza

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Mickey Stikas could have appealed, but at 67 he said he was tired of the fight.

“I’ve been fighting this since ’07,” he said. “They have everything I had tied up.”

So Stikas settled his long-running legal battle with Bank of America and signed over the deed to the Pawleys Island Plaza to Sunbelt Ventures, which bought Stikas’ mortgage from the bank. Sunbelt last week applied to Georgetown County for approval to expand the center to include a 119,600-square-foot Walmart along with smaller retail spaces.

The settlement offset the bank’s $5.3 million claim against Stikas with $3.1 million worth of claims he made against the bank and Sunbelt.

“I made a business decision,” Stikas said. “Sometimes you have to punt.”

An appeal of his suit with the bank would have dragged on at least another 18 months, he said. Sunbelt, he said, was eager to settle. “There was a huge sense of urgency,” Stikas said.

Development plans were filed two weeks after the deed was recorded.

That leaves Stikas facing the prospect of a Walmart affecting his other commercial property, the Village Shops. “They’re commonly referred to as a ‘category killer,’ ” he said of the chain. “Walmart attracts a different kind of use than I envisioned for the plaza.”

When he bought the plaza in 2005, the anchor grocery store had been vacant for a decade. He had his own plans to revive the property, but they were thwarted when mold was found in the vacant grocery, mold he says that should have been detected by the inspector Bank of America required him to use before it issued the mortgage. By the time the problem was cured, the economy was headed toward recession.

Stikas had plans for Bi-Lo, which wanted to move from Litchfield. He was approached by a group working with Fresh Market. He had a plan for a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, about a third smaller than the one that failed to win county approval at the South Causeway in 2005. A Lowes Foods, unrelated to the home improvement company, would have come in, too.

Those were all stymied by the bank, Stikas said, which required a minimum rent as a condition of the mortgage. As the economy spiraled down, the plaza lost tenants because he said he couldn’t compete on the rent. So he sued the bank, which began foreclosure proceedings because he violated the mortgage by suing.

As the Walmart project creates a rising tide of opposition from residents, Stikas is trying to stay on the sidelines. He hasn’t seen Sunbelt’s plan, though he is interested to learn how they will deal with the traffic.

“If Walmart goes there, it will be Bank of America’s fault,” Stikas said.

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