The City of Conway recently approved a plan to do some trading with riverfront businesses and landowners that, officials say, will keep the riverfront area open to visitors and allow the businesses to offer added outdoor dining and other special attractions.
Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy says the land transfers were the result of an opportunity that just made good sense because the parcels given, some already being used by area businesses, had little or no value like they were, but they fit into the city’s futuristic plan for the riverfront area.
“This thing was an exchange that suited the city’s movement toward the river,” she said.
It will allow several business owners to expand what they’re able to do by gaining very insignificant pieces of city property, and in exchange the city can improve a public space and make movement to the riverwalk more pleasant for its citizens and visitors, according to the mayor.
The property exchange provides for an additional access to the riverwalk near the Bonfire and for more docks, a new Brewery and perhaps a new restaurant or sports bar at the old Tractor Shed.
Councilman William Goldfinch said he sees the property transfers, along with the purchase of the old Solicitor’s Office at Laurel Street and Second Avenue as a good answer to shelving plans to build a new city hall, at least for now.
“That’s just not in the cards,” he said, adding that he was concerned about spending millions of dollars for a new city hall at this time when the city isn’t sure what its budget will look like next year.
“We are out of space,” he said. “We had to do something so we got a great deal on the old Solicitor’s building. We own that now and we’re going to put a little money into dressing that up and get some staff over there.”
Goldfinch and other councilmen mentioned also dressing up several of Conway’s alleys, making them look more like the Garden Walk that runs from Scarborough Alley to Third Avenue, and using them to connect Conway’s downtown area with the riverfront area, an area that developer Tripp Nealy believes has been underutilized for 150 years.
Nealy says he still has plans to transform the old Jerry Cox Warehouse into a restaurant that he is calling Under the Bridge. He says he and a partner are about to wrap up plans for the new restaurant now. He’d like to start his renovations shortly after the first of the year and have Under the Bridge complete in six to eight months, but he says that will depend on the COVID-19 virus and any obstacles that it might put in their path.
He’s excited about being part of the area’s upgrade saying, “I just think the more businesses that go down there, the restaurants and stuff, the more people are going to come.”
Nealy’s 265-seat restaurant got its first approval from the Community Appearance Board in February of 2019. He plans to keep the same footprint for the warehouse and salvage most of the outside wood, but he plans to move most of the outside wood inside where it will be installed just above seating. Just for old time sake, he plans to keep one section of the original siding on the riverside of the building so folks can continue to have their pictures taken there, and even scribble a little graffiti the way they have for too many years for anyone to remember.
Nealy said he won’t do the cooking at the new restaurant. He’ll provide the building and leave the management and cooking to professionals.
“I’m excited about it,” Nealy said. “I think it’s going to be cool to have a restaurant like that in Conway.”
He especially likes that it is near the Main Street Bridge that he believes is the most photographed site in Conway.
“There will be 56 seats outside on an upper deck that you’re going to be sitting out over the river, and that’s going to be really cool to dine like that,” he said.
Also, part of the trade was giving the old Tractor Shed to Joe and Nancy Burroughs, owners of 104 Laurel. Burroughs hopes to transform the shed into a sports bar or restaurant with what he calls the best view of the river anywhere.
Councilwoman Jean Timbes says council put out a request for proposals for people to give their ideas for things they would like to see and do at the river.
“Part of this is just to get people to claim the land that they’re using already,” she said.
For instance, the Bonfire was given the deck-area to the left of the building where diners can eat outside at a picnic table.
She said they are hoping to build connectivity along the riverwalk in somewhat the same way as the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk. Conway’s walk just won’t be as long, she said. The most Conway can offer is three restaurants, unless the riverwalk is extended, according to Timbes.
Councilman Alex Hyman said the city got few responses to its RFP, but the responses it got were great.
“We’ve got some things that I think are going to be really neat coming to the river area,” he said.
He says the purpose of the transfer was “really just cleaning up some property lines.”
He said he’s very excited about the potential for the old Solicitor’s Office, saying it will save the citizens of Conway a lot of money when he looks at what can be put in there, instead of spending $20 million on a new city hall. He also points to use of an alleyway beside the building opening onto Second Avenue.
“The idea is to create more walking ability and pretty garden walks from the river all the way up from the river area all the way up to the downtown,” he said, adding that Conway has “got some neat stuff coming.”
He says he loves the black water of the Waccamaw River and, “I love that we’re a rivertown and not a beach town.”
Another part of the area’s plan is two buildings planned by the Genford Development Company, out of Raleigh, N.C.
One is on the property where the Ocean Fish Mart is, and the second is planned for three lots owned by the city beside the Bonfire Restaurant.
That building is what developer Stephen Fitzpatrick calls the riverwalk project. It will include a brewhouse/coffee house and a restaurant.
“The connectivity from the river to the town was important to us,” he said.
The building that he is calling The Tidal Brewhouse will have a companion coffeehouse. He expects to offer five or six kinds of beer, depending on the season. They’ll have food there as well, and perhaps some wine.
Earlier this week, Fitzpatrick said he met about two weeks ago with City Administrator Adam Emrick and Deputy City Administrator/ Planning and Development Director Mary Catherine Hyman and they instructed him to go ahead with their contract, and he expects to get it back for execution next week. He was scheduled to meet with an architect yesterday to go over design changes so they’ll be on schedule for another meeting with the Community Appearance Board in December.
If all goes according to plan, he expects the project to take about six months.
He doesn’t expect any of the recent property transfers to affect his plans much, but says anything that helps the area will be good for his projects because rising water lifts all the boats.
“I think downtown’s waking up and it bodes well for other things that we’re thinking about and we’re looking to do in the Conway area,” he said, but he’s quiet about what those things might be.
The land transfers
After a recent executive session, council approved deeding to the Bonfire owners the 18.5x59-foot patio to the left of the restaurant, along with an area between the footprint of the building and the river and an 11.3-foot x 12-foot shed area to the right of the building, provided the shed gets approval from the Community Appearance Board, and a 7-foot strip on the right side of the building where the utilities are.
Joe and Nancy Burroughs, owners of 104 Laurel, will be given the Tractor Shed including the area on the north side of the existing parcel. They will not be able to access their parking from Laurel Street and the city will not do any work to the Tractor Shed that will be used in the future for special outdoor events.
The area to the southside of the building will be open for a deck and other improvements. All of this work must be approved by the CAB and permitted by the Planning and Building departments.
Tripp Nealy will be given additional property to provide ADA ramps, stairways and utilities. His signage will need to comply with the UDO or follow procedures for CAB variances or approvals; his outdoor cookers will need to comply with fire codes and DHEC rules; and he will be allowed to use shared space for outdoor dining if it’s approved. The city agrees to improve parking as development continues at the riverfront and provide a new entrance to the Riverwalk between the Bonfire and Lower River Warehouse that Nealy will be allowed to attach to, allowing for patio access.
The city has also agreed to sell the parcel beside the Bonfire to Steve Fitzpatrick with Genford Development and provide parking landscaping and utilities per the Burroughs agreement and the city will provide additional docks at very little expense, according to Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, who says Santee Cooper gave the docks to the city.
All improvements made by the applicants must be approved by the CAB and permitted by the Planning and Building departments.
Dumpsters will be removed and a new garbage facility will be open for all of the restaurants in the area.
Known as an environmental refuse facility, the brick walled facility is designed to cut the number of roll-out trash carts and any related smells from the area.
Blain-Bellamy says the city will service the facility as much as is necessary and will take steps to keep all odors away. It will require some restaurant owners to walk a little or use a golf cart to dispose of their trash.
She says it’s “not a grinding, flush down kind of facility. It’s just a larger storage capacity and we get to go to one place to pick it up, and we’ll go there as often as we need to…to make sure it’s not offensive.”