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Mayfaire At 20: Mixed-use Pioneer Evolves In Changing Landscape

By Emma Dill, posted Jan 19, 2024
Mayfaire Town Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a concert series, Mother’s Day event, fitness event, new store openings, promotions and more. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
This year, Mayfaire Town Center enters its 20s. The mixed-use development on Wilmington’s Military Cutoff Road marked the opening of its first anchor tenant – the department store Hecht’s, today Belk – in March 2004. Two months later, Mayfaire hosted its own grand opening.

Over two decades, Mayfaire has evolved and grown, adding new phases and signing on big-name national retailers and boutique businesses. The center has also helped spark broader development throughout the Military Cutoff corridor, with residential neighborhoods, hotels and offices taking shape nearby. That evolution is set to continue in the years to come as a new hotel rises and the shopping center welcomes a handful of new upscale tenants. 

While today’s Mayfaire is a bustle of activity, as Steve Anderson, owner and developer with SAMM Properties Inc. who grew up in Wilmington in the 1960s and ’70s, recalls, there wasn’t much happening in that part of the city. 

“I remember when that area was literally out of town,” he said. “To come out this way, you were heading to Jacksonville ... if you weren’t going to the beach.” 

That all started to shift in the 1990s with the opening of The Forum, according to David Swain, founder of commercial development firm Swain & Associates, who developed the boutique shopping center. To Swain, the center marked “a real change” for the area. 

“The corridor began to transition from farms and pastureland to the early phases or retail,” Swain wrote in an email to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. “The Forum was still seen as on the outskirts of town, and Independence Mall and Hanover Center were considered the dominant retail hub. When Mayfaire opened, that changed.” 

Even before Mayfaire, the area began seeing development that hinted at its growth potential in the future. 

In 1986, builders completed the first home in Landfall, the neighborhood that would provide the demographic needed to attract upscale businesses to the area. The same year, The Galleria shopping center – now demolished but expected to be redeveloped – opened on Wrightsville Avenue. 

In 1990, Landfall Center opened its doors to retailers, while The Forum began welcoming shoppers in 1998. 

Apart from surrounding development, zoning also played a role in making Mayfaire a reality. In 2000, Wilmington leaders greenlighted the establishment of an MX or mixed-use zoning district, using input from the public and developers to iron out the details and standards. The new zoning allowed for multiple uses, including a mix of residential and commercial, to be part of the same development.  

The center has grown in phases. Following that initial grand opening, construction started on Mayfaire’s second phase in 2006. Then, in 2015, Mayfaire bought 40 acres at 1105 Eastwood Road, on the backside of Mayfaire, to prepare for more growth. 

The shopping center’s third phase of expansion, which took place in 2016, “stands out as a major transformation” in the last decade, according to Paige Coniglio, Mayfaire’s marketing director. The expansion added more than 46,000 square feet now home to businesses ranging from H&M, Palmetto Moon and Torrid to Sola Salon Studios and School of Rock, among other retailers.  

A few years after Mayfaire’s grand opening, Anderson, the owner of SAMM Properties, got a call from Mayfaire’s developers asking if he’d want to create an office park in the center. Anderson had just wrapped up another project on Military Cutoff Road, so the timing was perfect. He jumped at the opportunity and eventually built six office buildings between 2010 and 2018. 

 “We started Mayfaire 1, and then about every 11 to 12 months, we would start a new building,” he said, “and they were filling up as fast as we could build them.” 

While he was surprised by how quickly the offices filled up, Anderson said it makes sense for the area’s proximity to other developments and Wrightsville Beach.  

Haley Bullock, who co-owns Blakeley’s Apparel & Gifts in Mayfaire with her mom, Tammy Cissel, first visited the area on trips to the beach. She later moved to Wilmington to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington. After graduating in 2019, Bullock wanted to work in retail while her mom dreamed of opening her own boutique. In 2021, Bullock convinced her mom to take a “leap of faith” to launch Blakeley’s online. 

While shopping in Mayfaire the following December, they noticed a Santa meet-and-greet inside a storefront. After inquiring about the space, they found out the spot would be vacant in January, so they applied for it and were accepted – a surreal moment for them both. 

“We could have only dreamed that our little online store could actually get accepted into a place like Mayfaire,” Bullock said. “We really needed the foot traffic that we knew Mayfaire was going to bring in order to make our brand and get our name out there.” 

The spot in Mayfaire gives Bullock a chance to interact with customers and allows customers to see and feel the clothing in person before buying it. She said the store has seen steady foot traffic, especially around the holidays. 

Bullock said she believes the shopping center has made moves to stay fresh and relevant in Wilmington’s retail sphere, including recently signing upscale women’s brand Anthropologie and bringing in a new hotel. 

“I feel like, honestly, Mayfaire has been revamping itself in the last few years,” Bullock said. “They’re looking for more ways to compete with the up-and-coming shopping centers that are going to be built in Wilmington in the next few years.” 

Developers are planning other mixed-use centers close to Mayfaire. Just to the south, Center Point, a joint development effort from Swain and Associates and the South Carolina-based The Beach Company, plans to bring 351 upscale apartments, 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space along with offices and a hotel to the corner of Eastwood and Military Cutoff roads. 

Developers broke ground on the project in August 2022. Site work remains ongoing, but the project will start vertical construction this year, with the project coming online in the next couple of years, according to Swain.  

While the site’s proximity to Mayfaire and The Forum is a plus, it’s just one “piece of the puzzle” for Swain. 

“I think our location’s greatest asset is that it’s at the gateway to Wrightsville Beach,” he wrote in an email. “It helps that the road network around us is going to be fantastic, we’re close to the Landfall community, and our part of town is where first-class retail, office and banking has clustered.” 

Just north along Military Cutoff Road, The Avenue, a $300 million mixed-use project, is still in the works. The developer aims to bring in a 234-room Westin hotel along with hundreds of apartments and retail space.

The project recently received plan approvals needed to move forward with construction, according to Roy Carroll, CEO and president of The Carroll Companies, the project’s developer. “We are currently mobilizing equipment and personnel to kick off this exciting project,” Carroll wrote in an email to the Business Journal, adding that The Avenue likely wouldn’t have been considered “without the ongoing success of the Mayfaire development.” 

Looking to the future, Coniglio sees promise in the development of the 139-room Element by Westin Hotel.  

“Adding a hotel expands the property’s trade area, making it a tourist destination, driving new traffic and sales to the property and the region,” she wrote in an email. “The addition of a hotel is in line with trends we’re seeing across the retail real estate industry to add density and diversify the overall mix of a property.” 

The center also expects to see an increasing influx of national chains and local businesses, according to Coniglio. In the coming months alone, a Warby Parker eyeglass store, Vochos Urban Mexican Kitchen, Potbelly Sandwich Shop and a Harris Teeter Fuel Station are set to open.  

That sets Mayfaire up to continue evolution into and beyond its 20th year. 

“These changes not only demonstrate an ongoing investment into Mayfaire and the Wilmington community,” Coniglio wrote, “but also position us for continued growth, allowing us to serve the community for many years to come.”
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