Retail gets a refresh

​Online shopping is up. Time spent inside a shopping mall is down.

Those trends and others are forcing cities to rethink how they build and redevelop retail property.

Shelter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island

Shelter Cove Towne Centre  on Hilton Head Island
The redeveloped Shelter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island emphasizes walkability.

"Strip retail is retail for the last century," said Ed McMahon, the keynote speaker at the Municipal Association's 2017 Annual Meeting in July.

"The future belongs to main streets and town centers and mixed-use developments."

That's good news for Hilton Head Island's Shelter Cove Towne Centre. It's also no coincidence. Careful planning and design guidelines got them there. Built in the 1980s, the space was once known as the Mall at Shelter Cove. Today, the Shelter Cove Towne Centre is a very different place, boasting restaurants, shops, a Kroger grocery store, nearby residential units and a pedestrian promenade on Broad Creek.

Shelter Cove Community Park, the green space along the promenade, hosts free outdoor movie nights, concerts and fireworks. A bike trail encircles the development and its green space, leading in from North Island, South Island, Palmetto Dunes and Shelter Cove Harbour. The site includes restrooms and other amenities, including a tire-filling station for bicyclists.

Common forces
In some ways, Hilton Head Island differs dramatically from South Carolina's older, inland cities. It's an island, after all, with bridge access to the mainland.

But the town's redevelopment efforts still have plenty in common with all cities and towns. In particular? The forces that drive the need for redevelopment are present everywhere. They include aging infrastructure, millennials, empty nesters, changing lifestyles, shifting consumer habits, the economic downturn, population growth and outdated buildings with unmet maintenance needs.

At the old Shelter Cove mall, nearby Broad Creek wasn't used to its full potential. 

"It (the mall) turned its back on this beautiful view," said Jennifer Ray, Hilton Head Island's planning and special projects manager, during a bus tour of the town's redevelopment successes. The tour was part of the Municipal Association's Annual Meeting.

"The mall started failing," said Ray of the old Shelter Cove shopping center. In the 2000s, Hilton Head's mall and many other indoor shopping centers faced competition as online retail increased and as the economy started to weaken.

An earlier attempt to revitalize the mall did not come to fruition. The rezoning to allow an increase in density to include the addition of a theater to the mall was approved in 2009 but never developed. A few years later, an Augusta, Georgia-based developer got involved. Instead of a strip mall design, the developer created a village.

"The shops have a different flavor as you walk along. There are public spaces that encourage you stop and linger," Ray said. That includes the public park behind the development overlooking Broad Creek."It would have been the loading dock in the back of the grocery store had the developer not been willing to say, 'That jewel out there that Hilton Head Island prizes is valuable to our tenants as well.'"

Shleter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island
Municipal officials toured Hilton Head's redevelopment sites
during the Association's 2017 Annual Meeting, including the
Shelter Cove Towne Centre, which offers a view of Broad Creek.

"We have an extensive design review board and design guidelines," said Ray. "Island character is a concept this island was founded on when Charles Fraser started development here. We take that very seriously and have a high quality, sustainable product that will be beautiful and last for years. It also blends into nature, which is another one of the assets that people come here for."

Creating the new Shelter Cove Towne Centre took creativity and care to get the aesthetics just right. One way was to add patches of public spaces, including benches and gathering areas, to the development.

Landscaping and pedestrian-level lighting also helped, as did rethinking the power lines.

"The town helped negotiate with Santee Cooper to move the power lines," Ray said, so that it runs through the parking lot. "That's not the area that you want to focus on. You park your car, and you get out and you move on."

Lower-storied buildings were placed closer to where automobiles traveled. Larger buildings are situated farther back on the site. Coordinating bricks and building materials helped create a cohesive project.

"You never feel like you're right in front of a large mass of large grocery (space) or big-box store," said Ray.

Put paradise back
How about doing the reverse of what Joni Mitchell sang about in "Big Yellow Taxi," a 1960s song that says, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot?"

Reusing underperforming strip malls and fading shopping malls presents a prime redevelopment opportunity, said McMahon, who is a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute and board chairman of the National Main Street Center.

In the City of Aiken, the Aiken Mall had been in foreclosure and faced an uncertain future. So business and community leaders traveled to Hilton Head Island to see if Shelter Cove concepts under the same development company, Southeastern, would be right for Aiken.

The Aiken delegation was impressed. And now redevelopment plans are in progress.

"We were so blessed to have a development team of this stature show interest in Aiken," said City Manager John Klimm, adding that the redeveloped mall will feature a 1-mile walking path and will not be a traditional, fully enclosed mall when it is finished.

"The developers have a plan for a major park for not only their use for events but also for use by the community, which is very exciting," Klimm said.

Recently, in the Town of Mount Pleasant, a former K-Mart shopping center has been redeveloped into Bowman Place Shopping Center, with new storefronts, restaurants and specialty stores.

Redeveloping old sites — retail and other kinds — as multifamily housing and mixed-use developments makes sense in some cases, since the infrastructure is already in place.

As McMahon put it: "Take these parking lots and put paradise back."