Feb. 7--ST. JAMES, N.C. -- With 2007 population figures expected to have almost quadrupled since St. James, N.C., was incorporated in 1999, Mayor Shelly Lesher says "convenience" businesses are sure to come -- and one project is well under way to house some of them.
"Frankly, what we as a town are aiming for is to be able to do the basic things more conveniently," Mayor Shelly Lesher said. "The growth pattern here is pretty clear."
In 1999, the gated town's population was 650. Town officials think that when U.S. census officials come back to St. James this year as the town has requested, that number will leap to above 2,500.
The effects of the town's growth can already be seen: Just outside St. James, there's a skeleton of a commercial building beginning to take shape called St. James Square.
The two-story, 22,000-square-foot building is on nearly four acres of real estate. Debby Daigle, president of Coastal Commercial Real Estate, which is handling the sale and leasing of office space on the property, said it's a perfect blend of what the people of St. James need and expect.
"This will help bring services a little bit closer to [the people of St. James]," Daigle said. "These people don't want to go all the way into town for such services provided by accountants and attorneys. We felt it was definitely the time to set a new standard for commercial development."
St. James Square -- scheduled to be complete in May -- will consist of two business buildings on N.C. 211, along which more than 25,000 homesites have been approved to be built in coming years.
Lesher said Brunswick County roads -- particularly N.C. 211, N.C. 87 and N.C. 133 -- need major work to address the projected growth.
"Certainly the roads now are just utterly inadequate," she said. "Roads are never going to stay ahead of the curve. They never do."
Lesher said the best approach to address those roads is to widen N.C. 211 from two lanes to four lanes and build a high-speed highway between N.C. 87 and N.C. 133.
St. James Square is not the only sign of growth in the area.
Several miles northwest of St. James, at the intersection of Midway Road and N.C. 211, Lesher said, a Lowe's Food Stores is planning to open, which could be a sign that more large companies are starting to take notice of the area.
"The typical companies that come in and research an area start drawing demographic circles to see how many people they can reach," Lesher said. "They are trying to reach a critical mass of people. We are probably a couple of years away from seeing that type of growth from happening."
Medical offices, barber shops, a drugstore and beauty shops are just some of the services Lesher thinks the area could use.
Daigle said she hopes 15 acres adjacent to St. James Square, which Coastal Commercial Real Estate owns, will be used for an upscale retail strip mall with dry cleaners, a coffee shop and restaurant.
Infrastructure issues being addressed that might help lure more businesses are Brunswick County's planned new sewer system and a new water tower that the county and the town of Southport, N.C., are working together to build -- which will help St. James, as well, Lesher said.
Plans are already in the works for St. James' first ambulance service to start operating later this year.
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