Can the former Waccamaw Pottery make a comeback in Myrtle Beach?

dbryant@thesunnews.comMarch 4, 2013 

Drive by the former Waccamaw Pottery off U.S. 501 and you’ll notice that most of the stores still sit empty about a year after new owners took over aiming to revive the old shopping center.

There are some physical changes -- no more weeds, parking lots are lit up, a new roof -- but there’s only a spattering of action in a couple of store spaces.

Landing new retailers and restaurants is taking longer than some officials had hoped, in part because of the still sputtering economy and the uncertainty last year surrounding the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, property manager Martin Durham said.

Durham envisions the complex, which he says will be called Waccamaw Center, being a hub for small shops selling clothes or ice cream and service businesses run by “people starting out with a new idea.”

“There is a market for a mall at a different level,” Durham said.

Interested tenants regularly call and check out the place as crews continue to make needed roof repairs and pressure wash buildings that were once slated for demolition before the failure of the nearby theme park nixed new development plans for the shopping center property.

“It’s just a matter of getting things shaped up,” Durham said. “By the end of this year, you will start to see a little more activity.”

The complex has three tenants, including the main draw in Imaginations costume store, and one on the way. A nightclub that opened last spring across from The Boathouse closed last summer.

The first new tenant since the nightclub, the Serra Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is under construction and plans to open by the end of March.

Owner Frank Schauer is aiming to be part of the complex’s comeback, lured to open there by the low rent on the 5,000-square-foot space facing U.S. 501. The jiu jitsu center will have a full MMA cage to use for training for fights and weight room and offer women’s cardio kickboxing and kids classes.

“The price is right. It was a no-brainer for me,” said Schauer, who signed a three-year lease. “Hopefully it will help wake this place up.”

Schauer said he believes the shopping complex can succeed by filling up with businesses that folks plan to go to, ones that don’t rely on drive-by traffic.

“Businesses where people are going to want to go to,” he said. “If you have someplace that people need to go or want to go to.”

During its heyday, the shopping complex attracted throngs of tourists, a go-to destination for some during their vacations along the Grand Strand. It was known as Waccamaw Pottery, then Waccamaw Factory Shoppes.

At the end of 2011, 3W LLC, a firm registered in New Jersey that is made up of Chinese and American investors, bought the 52.29 acres from General Electric Credit Equities for $7.5 million.

The property hadn’t been kept up since about 2008 when the previous owners -- also investors in Hard Rock Park -- abandoned plans to tear down the mall buildings to make way for a mixed-use development dubbed “Paradise City” and tied into the theme park next door. The theme park only lasted one summer as Hard Rock Park, and the investors abandoned their plans to redevelop the mall property once the park shut down in 2008. The mall was only renting month-to-month and needed some TLC.

Durham said he regularly gets calls and shows parts of the 600,000-square-foot space to potential tenants, with particular interest in restaurants or bars wanting to move into the former nightclub space because it wouldn’t need as much work as the other spots. Durham predicts that space will be filled by summer.

Another plus: the local economy is starting to pick up, especially construction of new houses to help the hard-hit residential real estate market, Durham said.

“You see some building going on,” he said. “It’s gradually starting to come back.”

Commercial real estate is starting to pick up, but large shopping centers and big-box spaces face some challenges getting stores to sign on to move in, said Paul Lehman, senior vice president and chief investment officer at First Citizens Wealth Advisory Group who tracks economic conditions.

“It is still going to be tough,” he said. “It is going to have to be a new idea because there is so much competition. The opportunity is there but there is strong headwinds. It’s just a bigger challenge. It’s got to be a different model.”

Durham is confident of Waccamaw’s comeback, it will just take a few businesses moving in to generate more action, which then will attract more shops and restaurants, Durham said.

“They want to make sure it doesn’t end up with the weeds growing up again,” he said.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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