Future plans for a remake of the Myrtle Beach Mall
When The Grand Strand Piano Center opened in the Myrtle Beach Mall 14 years ago, the shopping center had restaurants and a long list of stores to window shop as patrons walked the halls . As the years passed, the mall traffic declined and stores closed or left.
But for the Piano Center, business grew every year. For Owner John Mastroberti, the site is a “million-dollar location.”
“We’re just in the center here,” he said. “It’s a pleasant location. People love shopping here.”
In the coming months, the mall will be redeveloped into an outdoor shopping center called “The District.” The hope is to make a Market Common-style shopping center that takes full advantage of Myrtle’s natural resources.
The rezoning plans passed third reading into Horry County Council on Tuesday without any opposition. The area now is cleared for development, but it may be a while until changes happen.
‘Generated by us’
When the plans went in front of Horry County Planning Commission, Chairman Steve Neeves said he remembers when the mall was a vibrant place to shop. It opened in 1986.
Now, the mall feels empty with many stores closed. Recently, the Victoria Secret inside the mall shut down. The mall previously hosted a Ruby Tuesday’s, an American Eagle, a KMart and other national brands to attract wide attention to the mall.
More than 25 stores still remain open. But the stores are not what people might typically think would be in a shopping center. In addition to the piano shop, there is a high-end furniture store, a retro arcade, an improv comedy theater, a model train display and a bookstore.
It also still has Bass Pro Shop, Belk and JCPenny as “anchor” stores. Some other mall staples remain like a Footlocker Shoe store and a sports memorabilia store.
But many of the shops sit empty. Even though the mall isn’t getting noticeable window-shopping traffic, store owners say they still individually see traffic, but the mall isn’t the reason.
The food court sits mostly empty, with only a few places still serving food to a mostly empty dining area.
“Any traffic generated for us, has been generated by us,” said Gina Trimarco, owner of the Carolina Improv Company. “It hasn’t helped grow our business.”
Mastroberti somewhat agreed. He said it is a great location for customers to come to, with plenty of parking and quick access to stores. It just doesn’t function like retail malls once did.
“If someone thinks they can just open a little shop here, hang their shingle out and do business, those days are over,” he said. “You have to drive people to your store.”
Mastroberti said he regularly talks with other business owners in the mall who also have seen growth.
‘An exciting project’
On Google, the Myrtle Beach Mall is already listed as its new name, “The District.” Most of the 56-acre property will be revamped, but parts of the mall will remain due to the stores inside sticking around.
In an online brochure posted on the leasing agent Divaris Real Estate’s website, the JCPenney, Belk, Bass Pro Shop and AMC Movie Theater are expected to stay in the new plans.
Once completed, The District will be more than just a shopping center. It will have a boutique hotel, outdoor fountains and green space and boat access to the Intracoastal Waterway. Current conceptual plans show a fountain at the center of the development, a boat landing and a waterside hotel.
DDC Engineers is the acting agent for the redevelopment through the designing and rezoning portion of the project. DDC is one of the larger local firms in Horry County. It has designed several developments — some met with strong opposition.
But the mall redevelopment went through the rezoning process without many hiccups. CEO Mike Wooten said this shows how excited people are for Myrtle Beach Mall to get new life.
“Even disgruntled Yankees like to shop,” Wooten said.
He said the plans will preserve parts of the mall, which makes the redevelopment more of a challenge than a fresh start. One of the reasons Wooten took the project was because it was an exciting one to work on with some unique challenges.
The mall sits next to S.C.. 22, which is the expected outlet of I-73 if that comes to fruition. When visitors traveling from the northeast come into Myrtle Beach off the proposed interstate, the mall we be the first stop once they’re in town.
“This adds to the experience in the area,” Wooten said. “It’s an exciting project.”
The project first went in front of Horry County Planning Commission on Dec. 27. There were some complications with signage issues, but nothing that was not resolved by the time it received final approval from County Council.
Council Member Bill Howard said the mall has not been generating the revenue it once did, and revitalizing the site will be good for all of Horry County both culturally and economically.
“It’s going to mean jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
The Myrtle Beach Malls management company did not respond to a request for comment.
Wooten said it could take a while before the construction phase begins. The Mall has to move some Santee Cooper equipment currently on the property. This could take up to a year. There also are still coding and governmental regulations that need to be sorted out before shovels can hit the dirt.
Both Mastroberti and Trimarco have been in the mall for over a decade. It has been the homes for their business.
Mastroberti hopes to keep his business where it is. Trimarco is probably going to have to move hers.
Trimarco thinks the development is exciting. She went to a shopping center in Arizona called “The District” and said it was impressive.
“I am excited that they’re going to create a space that could bring in more business,” she said.
Trimarco said her main complaint is a lack of communication about a timeline for the development to happen. She said she has had to go to management and ask for verification rumors she heard about the development.
“We can only make assumptions,” she said. “We have to be the proactive party.”
Still, the Carolina Improv Company is going to look for a new home. Trimarco said her business is going to “play the field” of new locations, like they’re dating again.
“If someone has a location for an improv theater, we’re open to it,” she said.
Mastroberti said the location has been good for him and he expects the new development to be even better. He said he the Myrtle Beach Mall’s management told him not to worry.
It is an exciting time to be a business owner in Myrtle Beach, he said.
“Other areas that are dying, we’re getting all the people that are leaving,” Mastroberti said. “They’re putting nice things in their home. … That’s what stores I work with here in the mall and that’s who comes to the mall.”