WEST OCEAN CITY — If commercial building and expansion are any indication, the recession is over in West Ocean City. The Route 50 corridor is booming with new construction and development deals.
Last summer saw the openings of several national chain stores along the corridor, including Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Hooters, Popeye’s, Wal-Mart Supercenter and Bungalow Seven.
This past week, CVS pharmacy broke ground at its new location across Keyser Point Road from the existing Rite-Aid. CVS is now located in the Food Lion shopping center off Stephen Decatur Highway, which will close when its new store opens in spring 2013.
Joe Schneider of Schneider, Richardson & Davis was the listing agent on the property, formerly home to a mattress store.
“The parcel that fronts the highway was 1.28 acres, and the size of the CVS they’re building necessitated they buy the single-family residential house on the Wawa access road for storm water management,” he said. “They are actually combining that site with the Wawa site, consolidating the entrances off the highway.”
Both the existing mattress store and the single-family home will be demolished to accommodate the pharmacy and a drive-through. The architecture of the new CVS store will adhere to Worcester County’s new commercial design guidelines.
“You can’t just put a big-box there with your franchise name on it,” Schneider said. “It has to have all kinds of new architectural features that make it much more attractive.”
Tanger Outlets, which purchased the Factory Outlet center in West Ocean City, has completed its renovations, adding bright exterior colors, outside seating areas, a shopper’s service and several new stores.
Amy Norgate, general manager of Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City, reports that a new Chico’s outlet store opened in October, and a new Coach and Coach Men’s outlet store opened in the beginning of November. Last summer, a Body Central outlet store opened, as well as an Under Armour outlet store. She expects a new Crocs footwear outlet store to open before Christmas.
The adjacent White Marlin Mall, owned and operated by Greenberg Gibbons Commercial of Owings Mills, was built in 1985 and has undergone major changes since then. Vice President Matt Mittenthal reports that the national chain Pier 1 is moving into a 9,800-square-foot space between Staples and Michael’s, and expects to open in January 2013. He is working with other prospective tenants to replace Panda Buffet and Ledo Pizza, which just moved out.
“We’re seeing (confidence) all around,” Mittenthal said. “Maryland has been pretty resilient. We have had some ma-and-pa tenants on the Eastern Shore been hit to varying degrees. If the national (chains) are doing well across their portfolio, they can kind of batten down the hatches (during a recession) better than someone who owns one store.”
Dunkin’ Donuts recently completed a new building on Golf Course Road off Route 50 behind Taylor Bank. Melanie Davidson confirmed its corporate offices have been in the new space for about three weeks.
“This franchise is actually growing rather quickly, so we needed permanent headquarters.” Davidson said.
There are 40 Dunkin’ Donuts stores within its franchise on Delmarva and in Baltimore.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from a lot of different types of businesses to locate in the West Ocean City corridor from the bridge all the way back over to Route 589,” said Henry Hanna of Sperry van Ness Miller.
“There are companies that feel they can be in that area and draw a whole different customer base than they would if they were on the (Ocean City) island,” he said. “They can draw people from Route 611 and Route 589.”
Hanna is the listing agent for the Sea Isle Motel property on Route 50.
“We’ve had a number of people who have looked at it with the idea of trying to spruce up the motel units that are there and continue to rent them to summer employees.” he said. “But the most valuable use for that land is somebody that is going to demolish the motel and build a new restaurant or retail stores.
“I think it’s partly pent-up demand,” Hanna said about the building boom. “For about four years, you didn’t see much happening out there.”
The Wheels of Yesterday Car Museum is closing, with its large parcel for sale at $1.9 million. Owned by the Trimper family, the 2.27 acres have two buildings totaling 19,000 square feet.
The new Seaside Village, just west of the bridge and home to Chipotle and Applebee’s, has space for construction behind those stores.
“We have a company looking that would build a new office building back there,” Hanna said, “but we can’t disclose any details yet.”
Shore Bank, headquartered in Onley, has had a sign posted for months along the highway at Seaside Village announcing its future opening. Doug Cook, Maryland president and chief lending officer, confirms that the bank will break ground at the end of first quarter 2013.
“We think that the Ocean City market is a great market to be in,” Cook said.” And in particular, because of the growth in West Ocean City, that’s a great place for the bank to have a flagship branch.
Cook said the location will include a mortgage office, traditional bank and offices for commercial loan officers.
Richard Eisenberg, vice president and general counsel of Cambr Co., handles leasing for Ocean Landings II, now being developed on vacant land west of Home Depot.
“We have the approved building permits for the buildings, and are working on completing commitments for tenants,” Eisenberg said. “We have two pad sites plus 120,000 square feet of approved retail.”
“It’s a mix of very good, well-known national tenants and local stores,” Eisenberg said. “The national tenants like to give permission for the official announcements of the stores, and we hope to be able to do that shortly after the new year.”
Development along Route 50 isn’t limited to the big national chain stores. Mike Dent, who has owned Mike’s Shell for years at the prime corner of Keyser Point Road and the highway, is expanding to include a Verizon Wireless store and Ernie’s Seafood, a carryout seafood store.
“I think, in reality, we had one of the last underdeveloped corners out here. With Popeye’s and Hooters and CVS going across the street, how can we look like the lowest guy on the block?” Dent said.
“If you look at a map, this part of the county has been planned and designated for growth,” said Bill Badger, Worcester County’s economic development director. “We’ve invested in the public infrastructure and the road network. And the Super Wal-Mart is the anchor of where a lot of that development is going to happen.
“We know — and my office is a barometer of that interest — it’s a very attractive area for retailers,” Badger said. “If you look at Ocean City proper, on the island there’s not a whole lot of developable land left.”