New center planned for Lexington mixes retail, residential

tflach@thestate.comNovember 19, 2013 

— A developer plans to start work this spring on turning a former sawmill in Lexington into a major retail center with a residential arm.

The project, on U.S. 378 two miles west of I-20, is among the biggest developments ever in the steadily growing town of 18,000 residents and perimeter around it.

“It’s a sea change for our community and for the center of Lexington County,” said Randy Halfacre, the town’s mayor and president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce.

Transformation of the 70-acre sawmill site, once a local landmark, will occur in stages, developer Tony Berry of Rock Hill said.

A long-awaited multi-screen cinema and 234-apartment complex are “both a definite,” but plans for about 16 stores and restaurants are unsettled, he said.

Town leaders welcome the project but are concerned that it may wind up only partially finished.

“I’m concerned about a piece of it being done and not the rest of it,” Councilwoman Hazel Livingston said.

Two previous attempts to develop the site — one of the largest available in the town — as a retail center fell apart in a recessionary economy.

Berry promises the entire project will be completed, but makes no prediction on how soon it may be finished.

Adding apartments to the mix is the key to making it happen, because that assures retailers a nearby market of shoppers, Halfacre said.

Some apartments could be ready to rent in summer 2015, and the movie theater should open that fall, Berry said.

Blending in stores and dining spots may take a few more years, he said.

The focus is on bringing in “a lot that aren’t here” but are familiar national chains in other parts of the Midlands, he said.

Stone Theatres of Charlotte has been waiting since fall 2011 to open a 14-screen cinema in the project.

Town leaders, who have been briefed on the project, hope the stores in the center blend well-known regional merchants with some local operations.

Berry says he will bring in official plans for approval early next year.

The center could develop into a regional draw, Halfacre said.

But its retail segments won’t be as extensive as those at the Harbison area near Irmo or the Village at Sandhill in Northeast Richland, officials said.

Berry’s plan outlines a dozen stores filling 150,000 square feet, but the design is flexible depending on demand.

No price tag for the project is known, but some developers have predicted it will be at least a $50 million project.

It will be an open-air center with stores clustered in a few sections and restaurants on its outer edge, according to the plan given town leaders.

An adjoining 20 acres is set aside for future development.

Motorists passing by won’t see much at first should the plan go forward.

Leveling the hilly site will take several months, with construction afterwards, Berry said.

The project also includes interior roads to keep from increasing congestion on a road that’s both a major commuter route and a commercial thoroughfare.

Nearby Corley Mill Road is named the sawmill that operated for close to a century.

It was closed and offered to developers in 2007 as growth began to spread around it.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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