Three months after construction began, the new front entrance to Kittie's Crossing shopping center in greater Bluffton has finally opened.
It provides direct access to and from the center from both directions of U.S. 278 and an easier route to Starbucks, Target and other stores that drivers previously had to traverse parking lots and interior roads to get to.
"I think it's wonderful," said Okatie resident Judy Williamson, 62. "You don't have to pull through the entire parking lot to get to Target or Starbucks."
"It's safer," said Marjorie Wilno, 69. The Bluffton resident noted that drivers no longer have to make U-turns to get to the stores.
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Stafford Properties, which owns much of the complex, spent more than $500,000 to build the entrance, convert the three-way traffic signal to four-way and alter traffic patterns inside the shopping center.
"We certainly think it benefits the tenants of the center, but almost more importantly, it benefits the residents of Bluffton for not having to pull a U-turn on 278," Stafford leasing agent Will Euart said last month. "I think it's a big safety relief."
He acknowledged there was a provision in a lease signed by Dick's Sporting Goods calling for the new entrance, but said the project had been in the works for years. Dick's store in the plaza is to open Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, Target has started renovations, which will add more fresh grocery products.
Although construction on the intersection has been finished for weeks, it couldn't open until the S.C. Department of Transportation signed off on the work, said John Snedeker, county traffic signal supervisor.
The intersection opened Wednesday at about 8 p.m.
Tom Fitzgerald, owner of Hilton Head Automotive, said he was initially concerned that changes to traffic patterns might cause problems for his dealership. So far, worries about vehicles speeding through his lot haven't been borne out.
"We're glad it's finally here," he said.
In fact, he's come around to the new traffic flow and believes the extra exposure could improve business.
Not everyone is sold on the new entrance.
Ben Prelich, 29, of Hilton Head Island isn't thrilled with the new traffic patterns, which he says gives some businesses "the short end of the stick."