CONWAY — If everything goes as David Beauregard thinks it will, the vehicles of students and families will be pulling into a significant number of the now-empty parking spaces at Conway’s Bay Village Shopping Center.
The center was built as a home for Wal-Mart’s first Conway store, and it has had an on-again off-again history since the big box moved to a larger space farther west on U.S. 501.
Beauregard, principal of Indianapolis-based Creative Entertainment Concepts, thinks the vacant store across the 501 Bypass from Conway High School is an ideal location for another of the family entertainment centers his company has developed or managed in Gaffney and other states.
Should that happen, Bay Village owners, the city of Conway and at least one of the handful of current tenants hope it will revive the center with even more new tenants and shoppers looking for places to drop some cash.
“That shopping center for 15 years has been only partially occupied and substantially underutilized,” Conway city administrator Bill Graham told the City Council in seeking its approval to fund half of a $4,500 feasibility study Beauregard’s company will do to see if the area can and will support his center. The attractions could include venues such as a bowling alley, arcade center, sports bar, full-service restaurant and a nursery area for parents to park their tots when they go to play.
Beauregard said Thursday afternoon that he wouldn’t have been so positive about the outcome until he visited Conway recently and looked over the center and the surrounding area. His last trip to Conway was 10 years ago, when he said he was scouting the city for its potential to support a movie theater.
That venture didn’t get off the ground, but the area has grown substantially in the last decade and Beauregard cited the number of college and K-12 school students nearby as well as families with children who need to be entertained but whose parents don’t want to haul them to Myrtle Beach to do so.
“I’m very very confident,” Beauregard said of the likelihood that the entertainment center will become a reality.
The city agreed to put up $2,250 for the study – the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. will pay the other half – because the family entertainment center would fulfill two of the city’s goals. It would reoccupy a vacant big box store and give more options for family recreation activities in town.
“I don’t think of this as an expense,” Councilman Tom Anderson said before he voted to spend the money, “I see it as an investment.”
Besides looking at Bay Village, Mayor Alys Lawson said, the study likely will be applicable to other similar situations in Conway.
Graham said the entertainment center would have about 40 full-time and 60 part-time jobs that are sorely needed.
Inti Khan said he would welcome more traffic in the center to help bring more business to his father’s NY Junction clothing store that has been in Bay Village since 1998. He said the shopping center has hosted a Big Lots, Goodies, Payless and Dollar Tree over the years, but they’re all gone now and no new tenants have moved in for more than a year.
Now, NY Junction shares the 167,000 square feet in the center with a karate studio, senior day care facility, a Badcock furniture store and a couple of restaurants.
Business at NY Junction has been OK through the years, Khan said, but not so much since the Great Recession hit.
“These last two to three years,” he said, “it’s been very bad.”
Khan said he’s not sure an entertainment center will bring the traffic to stimulate NY Junction and other businesses in the center, but he’s not going to sniff at the idea either. What’s really needed, though, is a grocery store, Khan said.
Perhaps one is among the potential tenants that Victor Shamah, principal with his brother Stuart in the company that owns Bay Village, said is looking at taking some of the vacant space.
“They’re triple A tenants,” was all he would say about their identities.
The development of a family entertainment center at Bay Village would likely increase their interest. Beauregard said new tenants usually follow his entertainment centers into nearby unused space.
While Shamah said he thinks an entertainment center would be just what Conway and Bay Village need, he isn’t ready to say it’s a done deal.
“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with (Bay Village) until the study comes back,” he said.
For the right price, Shamah said he and his brother likely would sell the center they’ve owned for eight years.
The Shamahs have contracted as well with a New York City leasing agent to help scour the country for new occupants. While the agent didn’t want to comment on the entertainment center, the leasing company’s website dedicates a page to Bay Village.
If you magnify the site’s interactive map of Bay Village enough, you can count just 26 vehicles in the 950-vehicle parking lot.
Beauregard sees that number changing.
He said that a couple of potential tenants in the entertainment center have already been to Conway to look the property over. He can’t say for sure his clients will choose the former Wal-Mart as the space they want, but he thinks it’s best because it has the 40,000 square feet he estimates the new center will need, and as the closest of Bay Village’s stores to U.S. 501, the best visibility for people in the nearly 40,000 vehicles that pass by each day.
Graham said the feasibility study should be finished by mid January and Beauregard said a final plan could be in place by April or May. From there, he said it will take four to six months to make his vision a reality.
Should the schedule hold up as Beauregard sees it, the now nearly-vacant Bay Village will turn into an early 2013 Christmas present for the city, its residents, the Shamahs, the Khans and the people who get jobs there.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.