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Real Estate - Commercial

Eyeing Potential On S. College Road

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 4, 2021
The Dick’s Sporting Goods store on South College Road moved to Independence Mall, leaving a 51,000-square-foot store that could be the next home of a different national retailer. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
More activity could be coming soon to vacant property in the 800 block of South College Road in Wilmington, and while it appears nothing’s settled yet, local real estate professionals and officials have best uses in mind.
 
The former Dick’s Sporting Goods store at 816 S. College Road, which includes a 51,000-square-foot building, is one of at least three spots in the block that need new users. The other are the former Kmart store, with its sea of parking, at 815 S. College Road, and a former Honda dealership at 821 S. College Road.
 
For the former Dick’s site, Brian Grabowski of Raleigh-based commercial real estate firm TradeMark Properties is the listing agent. The property might be getting close to seeing new life.
 
“We have significant interest from four national retailers, one that wants to take all of it and three that want to take half of it,” Grabowski said.
 
Of the potential outcome of those negotiations, he added, “The landlord is still evaluating the different possible scenarios.”
 
It’s the kind of real estate that national chains are drawn to, he said.
 
“It’s a signalized intersection; it’s got pylon signage right on College [Road],” Grabowski said. “It’s highly visible.”
 
The building for the former Dick’s Sporting Goods operation was built in the 1970s as a large-box retail building, said Hansen Matthews, partner in Maus, Warwick, Matthews & Co.
 
“It still has a lot of functional use if another large retailer wants to enter our market, and it could easily be subdivided to accommodate a couple of medium-sized retailers,” he said. “The 4-acre site has frontage on both College Road and Kerr Avenue, along with a traffic light entrance on College Road.
 
“This combination of factors is almost impossible to replicate and there are many great redevelopment retail uses for the site, including a mixed-use project with both retail and multifamily components.”
 
The former Stevenson-Hendrick Honda dealership property at 821 S. College Road was listed at a price of a little over $9.6 million last year after the dealership moved to a new facility on Market Street.
 
Stevenson purchased the property in 1992. Over time, the dealership grew from one building to three buildings totaling about 57,000 square feet on 7 acres, making it one of the largest dealerships in Southeastern North Carolina, according to a previous Greater Wilmington Business Journal article.
 
Cody Cress, Tyler Pegg and Will Daube, with The CRESS Group of Coldwell Banker Commercial Sun Coast Partners, are the listing agents.
 
“The site is still very functional and well set up for another local or national dealership to take advantage of the existing real estate,” according to a CRESS Group news release in September last year. “The site is located within close proximity to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington at a prime hard corner with substantial road frontage and a traffic count of 77,000 +/- vehicles daily.
 
“This also makes it very attractive to major national retailers or for a repurpose of the property into something new.”
 
Mark Johnson, executive vice president and sales manager of CBC Sun Coast Partners, who is not involved in the potential sale of the property, said one obvious use could be for another car dealership.
 
But he said he thinks the best use of the former Honda dealership or Kmart properties “would be some version of mixed use, with heavy emphasis on residential. I could see apartments in the back, townhomes as a bridge to some limited commercial up on College for either/both properties.”
 
Johnson and others said student housing, which had been proposed previously before Kmart renewed its lease, would make a lot of sense because of the site’s proximity to the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
 
A marketing brochure online by commercial real estate firm JLL calls the property at 815 S. College Road a “117,346-square-foot opportunity for lease in Wilmington’s prime commercial corridor” adding that a ground lease could be extended through 2028.
 
Efforts to reach representatives of JLL and property owner Jack A. Sneeden Corp. to find out whether the former Kmart property is still on the leasing market were not successful as of press time.
 
Also as of press time, there appeared to be no new proposals for the Kmart site going through the city planning department.
 
Given the proximity of both the Kmart and dealership sites to UNCW, “a natural fit would be for student housing, with ground floors dedicated to student related services, retail, dining, entertainment, etc. UNCW lacks a near-campus, walkable ‘main street’ or center like Hillsborough Street in Raleigh or Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. This area is large enough to fulfill that purpose,” said Glenn Harbeck, director of planning, development and transportation for the city of Wilmington.
 
In a news release last year, UNCW touted its growing enrollment numbers, which support the idea that more student housing is in demand in the area.
 
“Setting a new enrollment record, UNCW will welcome 17,915 students, including a record 3,265 total graduate students, this semester,” the September 2020 release stated. “UNCW’s graduate student population continues to grow at double-digit rates, a sign of the high demand for the university’s quality programs. The university led the UNC System in enrollment growth from 2009-2019 at a rate of 35%, and the next decade looks to be even more promising.”
 
Matthews said, “The Kmart site is perfect for student apartments, as is the former Honda dealership next door. Student housing is the highest and best use for that land, hands down.”
 
Despite the fact that they are all close to UNCW, the vacant South College Road properties have many differences.
 
“The Kmart property is clearly more conducive to retail, but the old Honda dealership is less so in my opinion,” Johnson said. “While I support mixed use as a concept, I think the zoning should allow for much more flexibility based on a specific property’s attributes like location, road frontage, neighboring commercial, etc.”
 
Properties like the former dealership site and the former Dick’s Sporting Goods can also be repurposed “for some sort of entertainment venue ... like the trampoline use at the old hhgregg in Mayfaire or Britts Motorsports on Market. It would be great to see a Top Golf enter our market.
 
“That said, I could still see a nice pocket of townhomes/apartments in this midtown location within walking distance to grocery, pharmacy, restaurant/brewery and other shopping,” Johnson said. “Maybe even an age-restricted or tax credit housing development.”

Correction: This version corrects the listing price of the former Honda dealership.
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