The colorful renderings paint a picture of transformation surrounding Knights Stadium and the I-77 freeway in Fort Mill.
When it's complete, Gold Hill Commons will boast 300-plus acres of mixed-use development, including 526 multi-family units, office space, hotels and retail.
But along the way have come unexpected realities: Road work delays and a recession that is still impacting lending from the banks.
“We were kind of frozen,” said developer Shawn Helda of Charlotte-based Corinthian Properties.
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Four years after plans were unveiled, four office buildings are up, including Daimler and Sunbelt. Auction signs, meantime, dot Deerfield Lane, where trees or bare lots await their uncertain date with a construction company.
In the coming weeks, construction of a gas station and convenience store will begin on one parcel on Gold Hill Road and Deerfield Lane, Helda said.
Despite the setbacks, Helda is optimistic the recent sale of 14 parcels will put Gold Hill Commons on the fast track again. At the Sept. 29 auction, the 14 tracts were sold absolute –regardless of price – to six buyers for a total of $500,000.
“That was well below what we expected,” admitted Helda, Corinthian's president. “Unfortunately, we took a hit in the process. They (buyers) got a significant financial opportunity.”
If it's not at all what Helda had in mind four years ago, given the economic climate, his company had few options if it wanted to move forward.
“We were never planning to auction property,” Helda said.
New plans unclear
Late last week, the buyers' intentions remained unclear. National Auction Group does not release names of buyers until sales have closed, according to Jim Striplin, executive vice president of the Alabama-based company.
The newly purchased parcels range from one to 32 acres. Six were zoned for retail, four for office, two for hotels, one for industrial and one for multi-family.
Like most of his auctions around the country, Striplin called Gold Hill Commons an “accelerated marketing plan” – just what he and Helda got in the end.
“The phone rang off the hook (after the auction) for a week,” said Striplin, adding his company has since received up to eight additional offers for pieces of Gold Hill Commons. Those offers are being negotiated, he said.
Helda said he wouldn't be surprised if the new buyers hold off on developing until the economy improves.
“Retail guys like to feed off multi-family. The hotels like to feed off the overall activity. They all feed off one another,” Helda said.
When buyers' announce their intentions, Dave Pettine of York County's Planning and Development Service Department is ready to help move plans along.
“The project has a good bit of potential. I think it's going to be a good fit for this area,” said Pettine, likening it to Baxter Village. “It's a matter of getting the right people behind it.
“Hopefully, this (auction) will spur some interest.”
With last week's announcement the Charlotte Knights inked a new four-year agreement with York County to stay in Fort Mill, Helda said it will make the development more appealing, especially to restaurants and other businesses who can fill a void in the area.
“Having that (lease) solidified makes our job easier in working with other clients,” Helda said.
Even if the Knights eventually leave, he is confident continued growth in the area and the “unknown” anchor-type tenant will keep traffic flowing into Gold Hills Commons.
The ultimate selling point, Helda said, is Gold Hills Commons' close proximity to Charlotte and exposure to I-77.
“When things do turn, we will be on the front of development. It's a huge part of Fort Mill,” Helda said.
Added Striplin: “It's a beautiful project. In normal times, it would be up and humming.
“It's a tough environment. A man can't borrow money today, but it's bargain time for a man sitting on a lot of money.”