Plans scrapped for Bluffton shopping center near Buckwalter Parkway

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 3, 2013 


An Ohio-based developer has scrapped plans to build a shopping center on U.S. 278 near Buckwalter Parkway.

Negotiations to construct The Shoppes at Willow Run, a proposed commercial complex across the highway from Eagle's Pointe, ended unsuccessfully about a year ago, according to property owner Paul Schlosser. The project originally was to be completed this holiday season.

"Right now, there is no project," said Ron Leslie, senior vice president of retail development for Equity Inc., the company involved with the plan. "Something might happen down the road."

Bluffton town manager Anthony Barrett cited the listless economy, environmental concerns and heavy impact fees as obstacles the project couldn't overcome. He said he was in contact with the developers during the project's planning.

"This project was conceived at the very height of the economic downturn," he said in an email. "The project had too many drawbacks for it to happen at that time."

Announced in 2011, the complex would have cost between $80 million and $120 million and generated 1,000 full- and part-time jobs, developers said.

It called for 550,000 square feet of retail space for a mix of specialty shops and big-box retailers, adding up to about 45 stores.

Walmart, Home Depot, Kohl's, Dick's Sporting Goods and Sam's Club were approached to anchor the shopping center west of Rose Hill Plantation. But Schlosser said none of the retail giants would bite.

"We just couldn't get anyone to commit," he said. "No one would pull the trigger."

Scheduled for a late 2013 completion date, Schlosser said, the project's timing didn't help. The 142-acre site's property value has been cut in half since the recession started in 2008, he said.

The project's proximity to the Okatie River, only two miles away, also raised questions, Barrett said. The site contains about 37 acres of wetlands and water that would eventually flow into the river.

Adhering to the Bluffton stormwater ordinance and acquiring the proper federal permits to build in the area were too burdensome, Barrett said.

Schlosser, who has owned the property since 1985, said it is one of many failed development attempts.

"We've had tons of things planned for this, and it has never really worked out," he said. "In the 1980s, I had the idea for a high-end mobile home park. That would have been a heck of a business."

He's still optimistic he can attract a big-market retailer to the site and create a shopping center to rival Kittie's Crossing, which is farther down U.S. 278.

Because the property is part of the Buckwalter planned unit development, it already is zoned for more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Beaufort County property records.

Barrett, too, said he envisions commercial development on the site.

"It is prime land and location for development," he said. "I would anticipate with the improving economy that we will see the property developed in the not too distant future."

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