The Market at McKnight opened in November 2007 amid much fanfare as a major development with great financial hopes. Then came the economic tumble in the fall of 2008.

The center, located at the southwest corner of Manchester and McKnight roads, is 60 percent leased. Developer Jonathan Browne of Novus Companies looks at the cup as half full.

"There's no benefit in promoting the negative," he said. "It's a slow market and I'm very grateful that this center has leased up to the point it has. It's stable."

Tuesday Morning, a discount gift and home accessory chain based in Dallas, is scheduled to open in a few weeks. Stein Mart, Bandana's Bar-B-Q, Baskin-Robbins, Starbucks and Wendy's are performing above the bar.

Browne said his company is in final talks with three tenants scheduled to be moving in this spring.

The $95.4 million project came with $27.4 million in tax increment financing.

While businesses such as Massage Luxe and the Total Access Urgent Care Center may not produce much in sales tax revenues, Browne said the revenue-producing businesses in place make up for any losses.

"I'm always biased toward the business that does the most taxable sales per square foot," he said. "You also have to blend that with reality. If there are no tenants that are producing sales tax, what's better? A non-sales tax producing viable traffic generator or an empty store? I think a traffic generating business is preferable."

Existing tenants saw a pick-up in business after Wendy's opened, Browne said.

"Wendy's is the best in the state," he said. "It has done a phenomenal amount of business. I've never had a fast food place experience where customers out of the blue say 'I'm so glad you put that in here.' Who says 'I'm so glad you added another fast food restaurant to Manchester Road?'"

Browne said the overall mix at The Market at McKnight is on track for what he had hoped in sales per square foot. Additional stores at the center include Clarkson Eyecare, Sears Appliance Store, Cartridge Plus and Locks & Pulls.

A Second Anchor

Attracting a second anchor in addition to Stein Mart is a priority, Browne said.

"We've had ongoing talks with a number of tenants, and they're tough deals," he said. "The tenants circulating today are demanding, and in a lot of cases getting deals, that weren't available two years ago.

"I used to say 'There's plenty to go around. There's no need to guard everything.' Now I have become guarded because deals are so few, you don't want to lose the opportunity," Browne said.

Rock Hill City Administrator George Liyeos describes the center as "a work in progress." He looked at comparable centers in the West County area and found that some were experiencing the same problems as Market at McKnight.

For example, he said Fountain Plaza at Clarkson and Clayton roads in Ellisville, where Straub's was once located, is in a similar position as Market at McKnight, as is Town and County Commons at Clayton and Highway 141. A strip of vacant storefronts exists at Manchester Highlands, located at Highway 141 and Manchester Road.

"The state of the economy has made all recently completed projects, even with the best demographics imaginable, a challenge to properly perform financially," Liyeos said.

The failure of the proposed Target store development at the northwest corner of Manchester and McKnight roads also affected the leasing rate at Market at McKnight, Browne said.

"By the time that one blew up, no one wanted to open a store in this environment," Browne said. "People wonder why it's (Market at McKnight) not full and say: 'The city would make more money if it were full.' Well, so would I."