Play locally to get Baxter style development in Tega Cay SC

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Trinity Townes development is under construction in Tega Cay.

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When Game On didn’t happen, it left an uncertain future and a huge fortune in its wake. And that opened up an opportunity for Tega Cay and the developers to create something the city didn’t already have.

The proposed Game On sports facility required the annexation of land between Stonecrest Boulevard and Dam Road. The proposed $40-50 million development, which would include pools, a theater, hotel, parking garage, fitness center, basketball courts, tennis courts and athletic fields, would total approximately 78 acres.

In late 2020, talks between the city and Game On Development of Mooresville, NC made it clear that the sports project would not go ahead. Some townhouses envisaged in Game On plans had already been built.

The Game On project dates back half a dozen years. But it was the man who was elected mayor last fall who came up with a new idea for the former Game On campus. It’s a vision that Tega Cay City Council can put into motion Monday night when it sets new development standards for the property.

Main Street, Baxter style plan

City manager Charlie Funderburk said the original developers worked with the city after the sports plan fell through. A new development group led by Kinger Homes and Charlotte Living Realty approached the city and were linked to the original developers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Chris Gray developed his own idea for what Tega Cay needed.

“What I envisioned for Tega Cay was a main street,” Gray said. “We don’t have a main street in Tega Cay.”

Tega Cay originated and grew from a lakefront community. Unlike other towns in the area, which originated generations ago as railroad stops and began with a main street, Tega Cay became a town in 1982. The gated community on Lake Wylie that first formed Tega Cay dates back to the 1970’s.

Tega Cay Drive runs along the spine of the main peninsula in Tega Cay, but is primarily a collection road serving homes, parks, golf courses, and other points of interest.

The city proposed something new with the new development group – with a new road linking Dam and Stonecrest to combine homes and shops.

“They jumped at this idea,” Funderburk said. “Loved it. So instead of a private recreation facility, it’s more about that Main Street feel.”

Tega Cay City Council will vote Monday night on whether to complete new development plans. If approved, construction could begin in early 2023.

Plans now place this new, unnamed street near the entrance of the sports bus at Gold Hill Middle School. Apartments, which Gray said the council would not push, but which were approved in previous agreements, would be on commercial sites. The former Game On site would have at least 100,000 square feet of commercial space and could have up to seven times that amount.

“Personally, I think it’s going to be the best thing about Tega Cay in a long time,” Gray said.

Gray and Funderburk say the scale is different, but they agree on comparisons for what Tega Cay would get.

“To an extent, you’re going to get that Baxter, Market Street feel on parts of it,” Funderburk said. “You’ll get a bit of a Kingsley feel from it. Just maybe not that big.”

Game On’s previous plans allowed for 250 apartments. New plans reduce that number to 225 live-work units across commercial and retail space. Overall, the number of new residences increases from up to 410 with Game On to 524 in the new plan. Up to 80 single-family homes would be allowed, something Game On didn’t have. The number of permitted terraced houses will also be increased.

The thinking behind the additional apartments is that they should better fit into a project that connects polar parts of the city and brings the residential areas close to businesses.

“It’s a walkable residential area to support this commercial,” Funderburk said.

The new plan would run for three to five years. All three phases would include commercial portions, leaving no homes to build and the project left businessless. The expected macroeconomic impact is $219 million, Funderburk said.

“It brings a lot of much-needed commercial space and tax base to the city,” he said.

A new sports page is launched

Even without Game On, Tega Cay intends to open a sports venue unlike anything the city has seen before.

The idea for Catawba Park dates back to 2005. The reality of it will open this fall.

“Catawba Park will be a regional attraction,” Gray said.

More than 60 acres on the banks of the Catawba River will have baseball or softball fields, multipurpose fields, an amphitheater, playgrounds and a large meeting space for community events. The park will serve city recreation programs and attract outside teams for tournaments.

“We see it as a catalyst, just like Cherry Park was, just like Manchester (Meadows) was,” Funderburk said. “Two phenomenal facilities that Rock Hill put together.”

Catawba Park was a massive, ongoing effort that involved multiple mayors and councils in Tega Cay. The success of other regional locations has been helpful in maintaining momentum.

“I grew up in Rock Hill,” Funderburk said. “I know what Cherry Road looked like before Cherry Park. I remember the battles people fought over whether or not to build this park. But it definitely boosted economic growth in Rock Hill. Manchester has completely transformed Dave Lyle Boulevard. We see Catawba Park as a big catalyst for us.”

Gray sees Catawba Park as part of a larger city vision to live, shop, play and stay in the same community. A hotel and restaurants that would support weekend tournament guests could also serve family members visiting city dwellers. The Main Street concept and Catawba Park should complement each other, Gray said.

“We have a lot to offer on Tega Cay,” he said, “and we just want to show that.”

Did the managers take the right step?

Former Mayor George Sheppard said he heard talks around the city but didn’t see the latest development plans. He’s not involved in the political scene, so he doesn’t have much to say about whether the new plan is an upgrade or downgrade of the original Game On proposal.

“I left,” said Sheppard, who was mayor when Game On first approached the city. “I’ve served my eight years.

“In the end, history will tell us what was right and what was wrong.”

Commercial development has been a stated goal at Tega Cay for years. More apartments are allowed in the new plan, but also commercial parts that could grow. Former Mayor David O’Neal remains steadfast on decisions made related to Game On.

“The City Council felt that we didn’t have to give up the city to achieve the commercial development that we wanted,” O’Neal said. “I’m glad we stuck with it.”

O’Neal hopes the focus will continue.

“I hope the city remains committed to commercial development over residential,” he said.

Gray anticipates an influx of local businesses. With housing above businesses and development documents saying that commercial and residential construction will come together, Gray isn’t concerned that a developer will just build houses and then leave.

“If they hadn’t built the business, they couldn’t have the homes,” Gray said.

Dam Road will be widened, and the new road – Main Street in feel but not necessarily in name – will connect parts of the city that now require a longer drive in heavy traffic. Similar to the opening of the Hubert Graham Way.

“We don’t want to have to leave Tega Cay to get to the other side of Tega Cay,” Gray said.

To date, as with many area development projects, the public’s greatest concern has been traffic.

“Dam Road will no longer be a small country road,” said Funderburk.

Funderburk came to Tega Cay from Rock Hill in 2001, at a time when there were no banks or restaurants on dual carriageways in the area. A career in city management and discussions with developers from all over the world lead to the same point. Incoming companies must have the houses.

“They put a pin on the map and draw a circle, and if there aren’t enough roofs inside that circle, they don’t come,” Funderburk said. “As simple as that.”

Funderburk understands that people hate sitting in traffic. What Tega Cay could get, while not the redefining sports site it once promised, is a new community worth the wait.

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John Marks graduated from Furman University in 2004 and joined the Herald in 2005. His primary interests are in church growth, communities, transportation and education in York County and Lancaster County. A Fort Miller native, he has received dozens of South Carolina Press Association awards and multiple McClatchy President’s Awards for reporting at Fort Mill and Lake Wylie.
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