Commercial space available, but business picking up


Renovation construction continued Tuesday outside Burkes Outlet at Southgate Mall.


By William F. West
Staff Wriiter

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wayne Harris says there’s still plenty of commercial rental space open in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, but spaces are filling up and the economic situation has improved dramatically in the last few years.

"We are hitting right now on all cylinders," said Harris, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development director.

Harris took particular note of the Augusta, Ga.-based Vireo group having acquired Southgate Mall more than a year ago. Vireo has reconfigured and upgraded Southgate, while demolishing long-unoccupied spaces at the retail center..

Stores inside the nearly half-century old indoor shopping center are being shifted to face West Ehringhaus Street, in what is going to be a more modern, partially outdoor setting.

"I think it is tremendously helpful," Harris said of Vireo's project. "It's a major shopping facility on the way to downtown or on the way out of downtown."

"And for people who are considering either opening a store in Elizabeth City or investing in rehabbing something in Elizabeth City, it's a tremendously positive message to see all of this stuff going on at once. And I do think the architecture of the new place looks very contemporary," he said.

"It really updates the mall nicely," he said.

Harris also noted the next-door strip shopping center, Jordan Plaza, is being remodeled and spruced up and has even acquired a few new tenants.

To the west, off of West Ehringhaus, Harris noted progress at the Port Elizabeth Centre shopping development, which was largely empty in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-08. Port Elizabeth Centre presently has a Planet Fitness fitness training center and an Ollie's Bargain Outlet. The shopping center should also receive a major boost because the Southern California-based Harbor Freight discount tool chain is going to locate a store in the former Walmart.

Further west and off the Halstead Boulevard Extended corridor, is the Walmart Supercenter, and the Shoppes at Tanglewood. Although the Super Walmart is constantly busy, there are now six empty storefronts to the left of the mega-retailer and three unfilled spots in the standalone building just to the west of the shopping center proper.

The pedestrian-busy Super Walmart should be a magnet for other businesses. The problem, Harris said, is people can shop at the Super Walmart without knowing what's in the next strip center. He hopes the landlord is going to be able to fill those spots.

A helpful addition to the Shoppes at Tanglewood is, on the south side, where the Seattle-based Starbucks coffee chain built a freestanding location with drive-window service.

"That's certainly the big positive out there right now," Harris said.

Just to the east, Harris noted the new Tanglewood Pavilions shopping center is mostly occupied and is looking good despite losing a Rue21 clothing store. The shopping center proper only has three vacancies, while a freestanding building on the south side only has one vacancy.

"I think they've done amazingly well," he said of that retail development.

Looking at the local industrial parks, Harris noted a couple of structures remain available for future tenants: the former TCOM building; and the former Davis Yachts building. Both are in the city-county industrial park just off Weeksville Road across from Elizabeth City State University.

At Pasquotank Commerce Park northwest of the city, Harris said his office expects the occupants to be served starting in May by Cape Charles, Virginia-based Eastern Shore Communications. Harris said the presence of Eastern Shore in the county is going to give those in Pasquotank Commerce Park an affordable option for high-speed Internet service.

Harris chalked up the local economic turnaround as, “Our time has come.” He said the corporate thinking is “all the low-hanging fruit has been picked” in other cities, and executives are starting to eye places they hadn't previously looked at to open new locations.

Locally, he noted the economy also has been aided by a mainstay: Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City. Although the Coast Guard has a standard rotation of commanders and personnel over time, Harris said the jobs and personnel are "an absolute community dream" in terms of injecting dollars into the local economy.

"They are permanent positions. They're not subject to layoff. They come with retirement benefits and health insurance and a big housing allowance. So, you've got that tremendous stabilizing force in the community," he said.

Additionally, Harris said he believes retiring Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Thomas Conway has done an excellent job "of righting the ship" in terms of working to reverse a downward trend in enrollment at the university. Harris said a decrease in students has had a lingering impact locally.

Harris also noted another economic benefit for Elizabeth City occurred on the Hampton Roads side of the North Carolina-Virginia border: The long-awaited renovation and widening of Dominion Boulevard from George Washington Highway to the junction of Interstates 64 and 464.

He said the de-congesting of what had been a stop-and-go Dominion Boulevard now enables a potential investor to maintain ties with the Hampton Roads market and operate in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank.

He said he's receiving more inquiries because of U.S. Highway 17 in northeastern North Carolina being designated as a future segment of Interstate 87.

"Pasquotank used to be eliminated from a lot of RFIs (requests for information about supply capabilities) because of distance from the interstate – 30 miles," he said.

He said what this means is he can now tell a prospect's RFI, "Yeah, we're one mile from future I-87 and even before it's completed, we're four stop lights from the Port of Virginia."

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development does maintain an online list of industrial properties for rent, as well as for sale. The list can be viewed by going to: http://elizabethcitypasquotankedc.com/property-finder/elizabeth-city-industrial-buildings-for-rent-or-sale/