After some quiet years following the Great Recession, business is stirring again in the Bluffton Promenade.
Three new buildings -- a mix of business, dining and residential space -- are nearing completion this year in the Old Town development. And work began last week on two of eight mixed-use buildings for the Promenade, said Ludtke & Vaccaro architect Mike Vaccaro.
Vaccaro's firm designed all of the buildings currently under construction in the Promenade, which started development in 2006. The first of those buildings, a three-story brick structure near the park at the Promenade's center, will open in August.
The Bluffton Room, a fine-dining restaurant operated by Margie Backaus and James Soules, will occupy the first floor of the building. Backaus said luxury apartments will occupy the two upper floors.
Several other additions are coming to the Promenade over the next year, according to Vaccaro:
- The Rivertown Tavern, between Moon Mi Pizza and Bluffton BBQ, will open by the end of 2014. The tavern will serve craft beers, offer casual dining and share outdoor seating with Moon Mi Pizza. An apartment will be above the tavern.
- Bauer Dental will open a new office down the street from its current location by the end of 2014. The dental office will occupy the first floor, and a landscape-architecture and land-planning office will call the second floor home. A smaller building will fit between the current dental office and the one being built.
- Contractors broke ground on two mixed-use buildings near the Promenade's northern end last week. Eight buildings are planned for the space, each under 1,000 square feet. The buildings will have retail space on the first floors, apartments above and entrances on Dr. Mellichamp Drive. Construction of each building will take about 10 months.
RETURNING TO LIFE
Built on property originally slated for warehouses, development slowed in the Promenade during the recession but resumed in 2011, when planning for Moon Mi Pizza began, Vaccaro said.
Over the past two years, almost all of the storefronts in the Promenade that closed during the recession have reopened, while businesses like the Corner Perk have relocated there.
All of the current available space in the Promenade is leased, and much of the future business space is pre-leased to interested companies, said state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, who is a minority partner in the development.
The economic downturn led developers to scale back some of their plans, intern architect Chris Epps said. The new dental office and the eight mixed-use buildings were originally envisioned as large single buildings, but were later split into smaller ones, Vaccaro said.
Recent agreements have been made with a bike and kayak rental business for retail space on Dr. Mellichamp Drive, and a mortgage loan office for space on Bluffton Road, Herbkersman said.
"Bluffton is open for business," he said. "We couldn't be more pleased about it."
URBAN FEEL, SMALL TOWN
Backaus, the co-owner of one of those new businesses, designed her upscale restaurant to have a small, intimate atmosphere.
A 32-foot bar made out of wood from an old Amish barn will occupy the front wall of the restaurant, and two large glass panes will slide open to connect to an outdoor bar made of stone.
The Bluffton Room will open Aug. 19, about nine months after construction started on the building. The restaurant's menu will feature New American cuisine and have a variety of steaks, seafood and chicken.
It will have 62 seats and 13 tables inside, centered around a large community table made from local ornamental cypress wood. Gas lamps, chandeliers and a wine cellar were custom-built in Bluffton, Backaus said.
"We wanted you to feel like you're a friend of ours coming to our house for a dinner party," she said.
Backaus, who developed the building her restaurant is in, said the growth in the area gave her the confidence to make a large investment in the Promenade.
Four apartments are located above the restaurant, built to resemble apartments one might find in the downtown of a large city. All of them have been leased, and two of them were converted into one penthouse, she said.
Each apartment features small balconies, soundproofing and views of Calhoun Street and the park at the Promenade's center.
"It's as urban as you can get in Bluffton," she said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.