A project that includes condominiums, restaurants, a brewhouse, some offices and/or retail businesses could begin construction in Downtown Conway sometime after the first of the year, according to a Raleigh, N.C., developer, who says he’s fallen in love with the charm of Conway and the beauty of the Waccamaw River.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, managing partner of Genford Development, said he was working on some office and day-care buildings in the Myrtle Beach area when some Conway site and construction engineers working with him on those projects asked him if he’d be interested in Conway.
He began to scout out the city, saying he is “certainly a small town person” himself.
“It intrigued me, so I went and met with the city council and planning director and saw what they were trying to do,” he said. “I think Conway’s a nice town. There’s a lot of history here…”
However, it was a trip up and down the river that left him describing the Waccamaw as “absolutely beautiful” and buying into Conway City Council’s plan to put more focus on the river.
“Once I got started I said, ‘Let’s just try to do this right,’” Fitzpatrick said.
Also because two of the people within his team had children who graduated from Coastal Carolina University, he became convinced that coming to Conway was the right thing to do.
Two buildings are involved in Genford’s plan: one is on the property where the Ocean Fish Market has pleased Conwayites for more than half a century, and the second is planned for three lots owned by the city beside the Bonfire Restaurant.
The building, drawn to abut Kingston Presbyterian Church, will have seven or eight condominiums, and, perhaps, the Ocean Fish Market. That hasn’t been finalized yet. Fitzpatrick said the building isn’t terribly large, because there isn’t a lot of room for parking.
A drawing of the building shows a patio with umbrellas where fish lovers can look out over Kingston Lake, hence the possible name of Kingston Commons, as that area was once known.
Fitzpatrick said his group originally planned to call the development Kingston Landing until Conway historian Ben Burroughs told him that the original Kingston Landing was on the other side of Kingston Church.
The plan calls for retail on the bottom and a restaurant on the water.
The second building is what Fitzpatrick calls the riverwalk project. It will include a brewhouse/coffee house and a restaurant and, at this point, has one remaining empty space.
“The connectivity from the river to the town was important to us,” he said.
When people pull up to a dock he wants them to be able to have a good view all the way into downtown.
Fitzpatrick said his company’s goal is to bring people into Downtown Conway by focusing on the river. They’d like to see an increase in the number of floating docks and make the riverwalk the focus it was intended to be, making it a destination for tourists.
“The best you can do when you do projects like this is study what’s there, learn about the community, but you also have to think about where you want to be in five or 10 years,” he said.
In the midst of all these plans, Fitzpatrick said they want to grow, but preserve Conway.
“You can get to the place where it’s not Conway anymore,” he said.
But, he said, “I think bringing more people back to downtown is actually essential for the long-term health of Conway. Sometimes you have to stick your neck out a little bit.”
Plans show the brewhouse, that will offer craft beers, having the name of the Tidal Creek Brewhouse. It will have a companion coffee house. He says his company already has this type of business at the Market Common. In Conway, he expects to have equipment that will allow them to make five or six kinds of beer, depending on the season. He already has a good brewmaster. They’ll have food there as well, and perhaps some wine.
One of Fitzpatrick’s first moves was to introduce some other people to Conway.
“I brought them up to look at the location, and basically they fell in love with Conway. It’s a very charming place. It really is,” he said.
When Fitzpatrick began planning for the Conway project, he said there were two things he was particular about. He wanted to preserve the Ocean Fish Market and the live oak tree that’s in the cemetery behind the church.
“Ultimately, no matter how we think about a city like Conway you have to bring people downtown, and you have to have core people that don’t just come in the morning…and leave in the afternoon,” he sad.
Fitzpatrick met with Conway’s Community Appearance Board this past week.
He said the meeting brought some very good comments, intelligent and well thought out, from members of the board and now Genford officials will tweak their plans a little.
He expects the shape and size of the buildings to stay the same, but designers will continue to work on the details.
He says they’re very excited to be part of Conway and to help Conway develop.
“It was certainly not something we came to the area to do, but we are very happy to be part of it,” he said, adding that they are thankful that the people in Conway brought this possibility to their attention.
His company hopes to present its final plan to the CAB within the next month and be under construction by the first part of 2021.
Conway city staffers say the CAB’s next meeting will be Wednesday, but Genford has not asked to be on that agenda. That will move the issue, possibly to the board’s Oct. 14th meeting.
Conway City Councilman Shane Hubbard said he has much more to learn about the development before he comes to a final decision about it, but he likes the idea of the brewhouse.
“If it will bring people to Conway and advance our economy, I’m for it,” he said, adding that he thinks Fitzpatrick’s team has at least one other successful brewhouse.
The only possible problem he sees is possibly not enough parking.
He also expressed support for Ocean Fish Market.
“I’d love for the fish market to stay just like it is. I think it’s beautiful, but who am I to tell someone what to do with their property?” he asked. “As long as they stay within the law, that’s where my opinion has to end. I love the aesthetics of the fish market. I think it adds to the charm of Conway.”
Fitzpatrick’s as yet unapproved plan incorporates Ocean Fish Market into the condominium building.
Burroughs, president of the Horry County Historical Society, has two concerns about the project: one is preserving the tree in the Kingston Presbyterian Churchyard and the other is seeing a building that fits into Conway’ historic district.
Burroughs says the condominium building is probably “really good modern architecture” and adds that he’s not an architect.
“But,” he said, “I look at it and, in some ways, I think that’s a neat looking building. I’m not criticizing somebody’s skill in modern architecture…I actually think it looks kind of good; however…I don’t think it fits on the riverfront of a town that is trying to promote their heritage.”
He points to the historical aspects of the church and its cemetery.
“I don’t think a modern architecture building is the right thing beside it,” he said.
Whatever building goes there needs to have characteristics of the old architecture that would have been around in the early years of Conway or at least when the church was built.
Burroughs doesn’t want a “fake building” that might look like it was built in 1850, but he said, there are examples of modern architecture that have historical classic elements that “kind of look cool and blend in with those settings.”
He says examples of this can be found in Charleston and Mt Pleasant.
Burroughs is also concerned about the huge live oak tree on the Kingston Church property whose canopy flows over the property where Genford is planning its building.
“There is a huge tree in that cemetery, probably one of the most beautiful live oaks in Conway…,” Burroughs said.
About half of the tree’s canopy comes onto the property being considered. Burroughs fears that developers might want to cut back some of the tree’s limbs, a terrible mistake that he says arborists have told him will cause each trimmed limb to die all the way back to the tree’s trunk.
He then turns his attention to the brewhouse building that will sit in the site of an old wharf whose ambience he’d like to see reflected in the new building.
CAB member Duc Watts says he’s glad to see someone interested in coming into Downtown Conway, and he’s okay with the buildings especially considering that the company has expressed a willingness to work on the historical style of the buildings.
“We gave them some suggestions,” he said.
He pointed out that no vote was taken at this past week’s meeting, that it was a preliminary report only to see where they were going.
“The developers seemed like they really wanted to work with the city,” Watts said. “I think it’d be good for Downtown Conway. They’re (the buildings) not big things, but it’s good. I think it’s good.”
One of the questions that he thought was left open was exactly where will people park. He says others at the meeting referred to some public parking spaces across the street.
Genford’s Kingston Commons building isn’t the first effort by developers to build some type of residential building in the area between Kingston Church and Fourth Avenue.
Several years ago, the city was onboard with a Myrtle Beach developer to build a residential building on the lot closest to Fourth Avenue with plans for it to overlook Kingston Lake; however, developer Van Watts died before building started on the project. Since then the city has bought the property from the Burroughs Company and recently asked companies that wanted to work with the city on this project to submit their qualifications.
They got a response from Robin Lospinoso with Development Direction LLC to develop a five-story commercial/residential building in that spot.
Gerry Wallace’s company Mozingo + Wallace Architects, LLC designed the building.
The plan for that building is to have some commercial ventures on the first floor, possibly a coffee shop, restaurant or even some businesses that will cater to residents of the 36 two-bedroom, two-bathroom residences.
When Lospinoso and Wallace presented their plan to the city, they weren’t sure if the residences would be condominiums or apartments.
Wallace said earlier this week that he isn’t sure what schedule that project is on now, adding that he isn’t the developer. He said they are working to figure out the price point at which developers can either sell condominiums or rent apartments and make the construction cost work.
He said they are continuing to look at the same plan, but said if the Kingston Commons plan is approved, they will have to make a few changes to their plans because the Kingston Commons building goes all the way to the property line, which is allowed in that district.
That would force Wallace’s group to redesign that end of its five-story building.
Wallace, who is also a member of Conway’s Community Appearance Board (CAB) said he has recused himself from any decision making on the Kingston Commons project due to his involvement with Lospinoso’s project.
About the Genford project, he agreed with others who spoke at this past week’s meeting saying, “I thought it was a very good looking building, but slightly out of character with the historic downtown aspect of Conway.”