Retail surge changes landscape of bustling Celanese Road area

Developer Randy Ligon, left, talks with land owner Robert Beaty about a future shopping center on Celanese Road last month.
Developer Randy Ligon, left, talks with land owner Robert Beaty about a future shopping center on Celanese Road last month.

Development on bustling Celanese Road doesn't qualify as big news much anymore, but a shopping center set to open this fall boasts a unique twist.

It's being built "on spec," meaning the developers spent $1.3 million on construction but haven't signed any tenants yet. Their willingness to take that kind of risk points to the growing strength of the retail market on Celanese, a seven-lane boulevard in north Rock Hill used by 36,000 cars in each direction daily.

A restaurant and four to five shops are envisioned at the center, located a block west of Mount Gallant Road. Called Graystone Station, the project is being done by first-time developer Robert Beaty, known to many as the owner of Animal Supply House on Cherry Road.

"You don't do spec building in the middle of nowhere," said Randy Ligon, the broker helping Beaty with marketing. "This is a case of building it, and they will come. I think you're going to see more of this up and down the street."

Celanese in transition

Small houses stand close to fast-moving traffic on Celanese close to Interstate 77. Some are barber shops and insurance agencies, while others are residences.

Now, Celanese is a key artery between the interstate and western York County, and the landscape is changing toward larger-scale projects -- at more expensive prices.

"The little houses are eventually going to go by the wayside," said homebuilder Dennis O'Connell, who opened an office on Celanese eight years ago. "They'll turn into commercial somehow. Eventually, it'll all be some kind of retail."

Two years ago, an investor out of Hawaii paid a whopping $1.3 million for a half-acre sliver next to I-77 that now houses a Starbucks. More recently, investors paid $1.5 million for a 1-acre lot at Celanese and Mount Gallant where a Walgreens is being built, said Reid Smith, the broker in charge of that deal.

In the case of Graystone Station, Beaty bought the 1.2-acre site two years ago for $375,000 -- just as prices were beginning to explode further west on Celanese. Beaty is making his first foray into land development, but it's certainly not the first for his family.

Beaty, 54, is the great-grandson of Milton Cherry, the landowner who donated a private farm road later named for him. Beaty's uncle, Moubray, developed Beaty Mall, now known as Winthrop Commons, and the Kmart on Cherry Road.

"It's just something I've wanted to do all my life," Beaty said. "My family's been in this type of business. I'd ride by this lot every day and see that (for sale) sign."

Improvements paved the way

Real estate watchers credit the surge in development to the roadway improvements and high traffic counts. During the construction phase, Ligon had trouble renting two houses at what's now the shopping center site.

But prospects for the land brightened in 2001 after crews added lanes, buried overhead utilities and put in new sidewalks as part of a $5.9 million "Pennies for Progress" project. A second phase farther west on Celanese finished in 2002. The state also spent $36.6 million to rework the I-77 interchange, finishing in 2004.

"Almost overnight, the phones started ringing," Ligon said.

Now, he and Beaty hope to start signing tenants in the next few weeks.