With an abundance of new shopping centers in Columbia County, developers are looking to fill up vacant storefronts.
Nearly a year ago, three commercial centers anchored by grocery stores -- two Food Lions and a Publix -- opened in the county, along with a 156,000-square-foot Walmart development on Horizon South Parkway near Interstate 20.
The Village at Furys Ferry and The Village at Hereford Farm, each anchored by a Food Lion, remain about 64 percent and 90 percent vacant.
That could soon change.
Though each shopping center opened during a downturn in the economy, Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial President Mark Senn said he expects at least three new tenants to sign leases at both centers soon.
"It has picked up," he said. "We've gotten good interest in those spaces, so that's a real positive."
Businesses that could locate at the centers include restaurants, financial and insurance businesses, a clothing store and other retail shops, Senn said.
Lots for a CVS Pharmacy and F&M Bank have been purchased at the Village at Hereford Farm.
Construction in the Gateway area near Grovetown is also gearing up and is expected to bring two restaurants, a beauty salon, a cell phone business and a furniture store to the area, Senn said.
Site work on two buildings totaling about 17,000 square feet started in October next to Walmart, said David Rivers, a Blanchard and Calhoun agent.
Rivers said the businesses could open by the spring.
Ninety percent of the space has been pre-leased, said Rivers, noting that a well-known Mexican restaurant will occupy one of the buildings.
In today's market, Rivers said, business owners are apprehensive about opening new ventures.
"People want to see Walmart get open and evaluate the traffic ... to feel a little more comfortable with moving forward on the project," he said.
Another recently opened retail development is Riverwood Town Center, anchored by Publix. The center is about 60 percent filled, with a McDonald's and CVS on out-parcels.
Several shopping centers in the Evans area are operating between 40 percent and 25 percent vacancy levels.
Mullins Crossing, which is about 90 percent full, appears to be the most active retail center in Evans.
Across the street, the center next to Academy Sports and Outdoors houses just two businesses: Edible Arrangements and Be My Guest Catering & Events. Realtor signs in empty windows advertise reduced rates for potential tenants.
"Our activity level has picked up over the last month, and we feel confident we will have the center filled very soon," Meybohm Commercial Realtor Lionel Prather wrote in an e-mail.
Evans Town Park on North Belair Road recently benefited from the Marshall Family Y's move from Lenox Plaza in Evans. It now occupies six storefronts in the center.
The back portion of the development is about 50 percent vacant.
Development Services Director Richard Harmon stressed the importance of striking a balance between new development and existing businesses.
"You don't neglect one and concentrate on the other," he said. "We don't want to lose the ones that are here. We want them to stay there, but we want them to have a neighbor next door."
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