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Northeast Plaza -- not dead yet

The Bi-Lo in the Northeast Plaza shopping center on N. Cherry Rd. in Rock Hill on Friday. The shopping center's new owners, New South Properties of Charlotte, plan on $6 million in renovations to revitalize the property after Bi-Lo moves to its new location later this year.
The Bi-Lo in the Northeast Plaza shopping center on N. Cherry Rd. in Rock Hill on Friday. The shopping center's new owners, New South Properties of Charlotte, plan on $6 million in renovations to revitalize the property after Bi-Lo moves to its new location later this year.

The departure of a grocery store often can cripple a shopping center, but at Northeast Plaza on Cherry Road, a different scenario is playing out.

When Bi-Lo closes later this year and moves to a new superstore across the street, developers will start on a $6 million renovation aimed at rescuing the old center from its 1970s-style look.

New South Properties of Charlotte bought Northeast Plaza for $6 million from a pair of Charlotte chiropractors who owned it since the 1980s. The company plans to install new facades, repave the asphalt to fill in potholes and reconfigure the giant parking lot for a more pedestrian-friendly layout.

Their vision is for the center to enjoy a renaissance similar to Love's Plaza further south on Cherry Road, which is thriving after a similar renovation.

"We still think Cherry Road is the road," said New South founding partner Will Whitley, who has done work in Rock Hill since the 1980s. "It's sort of the heart and soul of Rock Hill."

Still, the $6 million infusion represents a victory for a road that has seen its share of departures over the years. In recent months, signs of a turnaround have begun to take root.

Earth Fare plans to open in the old Harris Teeter location at Winthrop Commons early next year, after as much as $1 million in renovations. The store has not yet made an official announcement, but sources have told The Herald a deal is close.

A Compare Foods opened this summer in the old Winn-Dixie, filling what had been one of the city's biggest retail spaces. While Earth Fare appeals mainly to organic and natural food lovers, Compare markets to a Hispanic audience.

Meanwhile, a Super Bi-Lo is expected to open in early November on the old Rock Hill Mall property.

Grocery stores are attracted to the area because of existing and planned homes off Cherry Road and areas north of the road, said Dave Hendrick, also of New South. Stores also like to be on the right side of the road as drivers head home from Charlotte because it allows for easy right-hand turns, he said.

Prospects at Northeast Village

At Northeast Village, the new owners will face some challenges in occupying the Bi-Lo space. Bi-Lo may decide to hold onto its lease to prevent another grocery store from coming in, a step that supermarkets often take to keep competitors away. Bi-Lo executives weren't available for comment last week.

Whitley said he's talking to a number of prospects, mentioning that a furniture, sports or electronics store are possibilities.

"The fact that something good is happening at the old Rock Hill Mall, which has been a problem for 20 years now, that's a big step for Cherry Road. You'll see more renovations and redevelopments," he said.

Whitley also credited recent taxpayer-funded improvements. The city has spent $12 million over three years to refurbish the road by burying overhead utility lines, planting trees and flowers, rebuilding sidewalks and installing new storm drains.

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