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B&C chief sees the future in real estate

Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., one of the most historic and influential companies in the Myrtle Beach area, is dramatically shifting the focus of its business, aiming to reposition itself as the premier developer in the Southeast, company officials said.

CEO Jim Rosenberg, who took the reins of the company in August, will lead the transition. Rosenberg replaced Doug Wendel, who transformed the company in the 1990s from a largely dormant landholder to a developer of real estate, retail and amusements.

Rosenberg could change much of that, and he has not ruled out selling the company's attractions, such as the NASCAR SpeedParks that stretch across the United States.

"Anything we have is open to be sold to anybody who comes in here and makes us a great offer - as any business should be," he said. "In today's business world, you do have to specialize in something. ... The corporate graveyard is full of companies that tried to expand out of their core business."

The company's base is in Myrtle Beach, where it formed and burgeoned, though over the past few years it has begun aggressively going after real estate developments throughout the Carolinas and beyond.

Now is the time, company leaders said, to seize opportunities in the real estate market to make the company's name known as the one to turn to for those wanting to make something of undeveloped land.

"I think we are poised now to take advantage, over the next year or two, of opportunities that will be presented throughout the Southeast," said Egerton Burroughs, chairman of the board of directors. "We have focused our operations now in North Carolina, South Carolina, and we're looking into Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia. These are places we see are opportunities for us, and we think we're going to do well there over the next few years."

During Wendel's term, B&C developed properties such as the Broadway at the Beach shopping, entertainment and restaurant complex; The Ripken Experience baseball camp; Grande Dunes, a 2,200-acre luxury golf and housing development; and Coastal Grand Myrtle Beach mall.

Rosenberg has already made several changes, large and small. For one, he shuffled the company's internal structure. He created a new committee system on the board - breaking with the way the company had run for 20 years - to respond faster to opportunities and make quicker decisions, Burroughs said.

B&C executives said the company ventured into the amusement business in the 1990s at a time when Myrtle Beach needed that type of business to attract more people.

Now, a company spokesman said, it doesn't need to fill that role anymore.

"You have people approaching us who want to buy stuff," said spokesman Pat Dowling, declining to name the properties potential buyers have pursued. "We can responsibly get out of those businesses if opportunity presents itself."

This could mean job cuts at B&C, one of the county's leading employers with 1,400 full-time employees and an additional 1,000 seasonal workers. Rosenberg would only say he does not know what is going to happen with employment.

Burroughs did not deny that the company would be downsizing, but would not specify the company's plans other than to say it was reacting to the closing of The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park, which wrapped its final season in 2006.

"I don't think you can look at it in the sense of getting rid of people, as focusing on doing fewer things better," he said. "I've heard that we will have some cuts in our company. You've got to understand that when we closed The Pavilion, that was a huge work force that has not come back to work, and that reduced a lot of people in our company."

The Pavilion site now sits empty, one of two major vacant land plots B&C owns in the middle of Myrtle Beach. Nothing will happen with The Pavilion until the city develops a major plan that stretches far beyond the company's property, Burroughs said.

"The Pavilion is such a small piece of a mighty big puzzle," he said. "Before we can make a huge investment in the Pavilion site, we would really need to see a plan that encompassed a whole area."

For his part, Wendel gently gave his blessing to the changes.

"Every organization needs change and new ideas and new perspectives," he said. "That company is a strong company, has strong leadership, and I think as it continues to evolve and change - which it has for over 100 years - [it will do] very well."

Branching out

During the Wendel years, B&C saw success at home but stumbled beyond the Strand.

A massive project in Columbia, the Green Diamond technology park, ran into problems, though B&C and its partners are trying to revive it. Other ideas that never got off the ground included golf courses, shopping centers and amusement parks in places like Branson, Mo., which was too far from home to effectively manage, said Tony Cox, the company's chief real estate officer.

B&C's foray into ESPN-branded skate parks only broke even, and the company also spent a lot of time opening five NASCAR SpeedParks as far away as Canada. Not all of those parks do well, Rosenberg said.

"Sometimes an idea, on paper, looks great and sexy, and when you get in to execute," it doesn't work, he said.

Rosenberg did not rule out selling some or all of the SpeedParks. "We're looking at all our options on that," he said.

Real estate development is a more natural fit, company officials said.

Projects are already under way in the Carolinas, some as close as Georgetown County and Brunswick County, N.C., others as far away as Greenville, the N.C. cities of Raleigh and downtown Asheville and a half dozen other sites.

In Greenville, B&C is partnering with the Silver Companies in what Rosenberg termed a "classic 50-50 venture" to create a 1,600-unit residential development. B&C will market and sell the project, and Silver is getting the financial details worked out.

At a place called Wendell Falls - no relation to B&C's former president - B&C took control of the financing while the partner controlled the land and had local connections.

"We're willing to play a different role outside of Myrtle Beach," Rosenberg said. "We're prepared to bring in whatever expertise somebody needs for a joint venture."

There's definitely a market for that here, he said.

"We're finding that there's families out there that own large tracts of land that don't know what to do with it, and they're starting to hear about us," he said. "They know we're a family-owned company. They're coming to us knowing we're harmless."

The company could, alternately, snap up projects in Myrtle Beach started by others but abandoned during the housing and credit crash, Rosenberg said.

"I think it's going to take all of our firepower right now to deal with all of the real estate opportunities that are going to come up," he said.

Even if the company cannot be the multidimensional business outside of the Grand Strand, its various properties and media holdings tie in nicely together here, Rosenberg said.

B&C can advertise on its billboard business, Coastal Outdoor, and it can sell tickets to its entertainment businesses in the lobbies of its timeshares.

"Running them together - marketing them together - makes a huge difference," Rosenberg said. "Then you can really get some good synergy and volume."

Pulling back

Through the years of expansion in Myrtle Beach, B&C became known for having a huge political influence.

Some of that was unavoidable, said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Because so much of their activities over the past decade have centered around development of property, they've had to necessarily insert themselves in the political process, if only to move their objectives forward," Dean said. "Some would argue that they've been too involved."

For years, rarely would a county or city council meeting go by without a B&C representative keeping watch on the proceedings - even if the company did not have business before the council.

That could change with a new personality in charge.

"I don't think we have a political role," Rosenberg said.

A focus at home

New CEOs trying to help a company make a transition such as the one B&C is making could face backlash from the community, said Andrew Ward, an associate professor and specialist in CEO transitions at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.

"They can generate some resistance, both inside the company and outside the company, especially if it is one of the largest businesses in Myrtle Beach and in a community, and all the sudden they're expanding outside of the community," he said.

"They're not technically owned by the community, but the community may feel that it has a stake in the company, and may feel somewhat slighted," Ward said.

B&C officials stressed their ties to the Grand Strand.

Larger aspirations will not translate into an absentee company, Rosenberg said. He emphasized the company and its shareholders' ties to Myrtle Beach.

"I can tell you there's not a single word spoken of, 'Let's sell the company,' or 'Let's get out,' or 'Let's cash in,'" he said.

"If you had some outsider come in and buy this thing, they wouldn't care where the money ended up. Everything we make here gets plowed into Myrtle Beach."

Contact LISA FLEISHER at 626-0317.

Grande Dunes Resort | a 2,200-acre residential development with two golf courses and a hotel

Broadway at the Beach | a 350-acre development built around a pond with more than 100 stores, 20 restaurants, 10 nightclubs and three hotels

Coastal Grand mall

South Beach Resort

NASCAR SpeedPark

Myrtle Waves Water Park

The Ripken Experience

Several mini-golf courses, including Jungle Safari Golf and Captain Hook's Adventure Golf

Midway Par 3 Golf Course

Pine Lakes International Country Club

Hotels, including Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inns, Marriott Resort at Grande Dunes and Suburban Extended Stay Hotel