A Kansas bank that financed Verdier Plantation, a mixed-use development off S.C. 170 in Bluffton, has foreclosed on the property and is modifying plans for the project to add more commercial space and a hotel.
Security Bank of Kansas City foreclosed in September after the developers, Verdier Plantation, filed for bankruptcy in May.
The bank, which presented a conceptual plan for the 125-acre Village at Verdier Plantation to the Bluffton Planning Commission last week, intends to continue to develop the property as it tries to sell it to new developers, said Tommy Wells, the bank's executive vice president.
The bank's modified plan would:
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• Add about 110,000 square feet of commercial space, bringing the project's commercial square footage to about 335,000 square feet.
• Include a hotel instead of 60 second-story residential units originally planned over a commercial village.
• Keep a total of 450 residential units of three types but adjust the quantities to 250 apartments or condos, 105 townhouses and 95 patio homes.
The added commercial space should make the project more attractive because residential real estate has suffered during the recession, Wells said.
"Commercial ground is more valuable than residential ground," Wells said. "When you're trying to recruit money, what would you rather have?"
The commercial space could take many forms, Wells said, but the modified plan calls for a 53,000-square-foot grocery store and a 36,000-square-foot retail store.
Architect Michael Kronimus described those buildings as a "big box" and a "junior box."
Kronimus said the modified plan is better suited to the site along a busy corridor across from the eastern entrance to Sun City Hilton Head. Residential units above commercial space work well only in select cases, he said, and the original plan lacked an anchor for the shopping center.
"It wasn't going to fly the way it was," Kronimus said. "All those little, tiny boxes make nothing."
The developers probably will need to amend the project's development agreement with the town. That process should begin April 7, when Kronimus expects to present the modified plan to town council.
So far, the bank has heard from interested parties but has no contracts for the commercial portion of the project.
Of the residential units, 20 townhouses have been built, and two have been sold.
Wells is confident the project will work once the economy rebounds. Apartments in particular are sorely needed in Bluffton, he said.
The original developers might have arrived too late to capitalize on Bluffton's pre-recession boom, Wells said.
"They probably missed the market," he said. "Now you've got to wait through a tough market."
If built, the project would join a host of other commercial projects under development in the vicinity of the intersection of U.S. 278 and S.C. 170.
Matt Rowe of Bluffton's Carson Realty, which is managing the project, said he thinks the competition should help rather than hurt Verdier because multiple projects can combine to attract more interest from potential occupants.
Once the recession recedes, there should be plenty of demand for both commercial and residential space, he said.
"All it needs to do is let up a little bit nationally, and we'll get more than our fair share here," he said.