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Barefoot Landing and Alligator Adventures
Posted September 16th, 2013 in Blog and tagged , , , , by Rick Hill

Barefoot Landing -House of BluesBarefoot Landing, a lifestyle and entertainment shopping center, located in Myrtle Beach, SC, was sold in April to a subsidiary of Burroughs and Chapin for a reported $43 million.  The waterfront village, consisting of approximately 100+ shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues was developed by Sam Puglia.

 

In late 1987, Sam approached me to help him plan and lease a small specialty retail center he wanted to develop in North Myrtle Beach, SC.  I drove down to South Carolina from Charlotte, NC and was impressed by the natural beauty of the location, a 27 acre lake between tidal basins of the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, and the sight of Boss Hog, a 14 foot alligator sunning himself on the lake’s shore.  At the time, I thought the market was too seasonal and declined the assignment.  Sam moved forward without me, and proved the wisdom of his vision and later convinced me to join him in subsequent phases.

Sam was always a true visionary and the PT Barnum of resort retail – master story teller, extraordinary salesman and a delight of a human.  His friends ranged from the golfer Greg Norman to Pro Bass’s Johnny Morris.  In addition, he was the envy of the sport fishing world when he built a 200+ foot yacht on the platform of a working fishing trawler resulting in a luxury SUV yacht – complete with a heliport, cranes to handle a submarine, sport fishing boats, and jet skis, and enough fuel capacity to cross the oceans.

 

Over the years the Barefoot development grew to over 300,000 square feet with major attractions such as House of Blues, a live Tiger exhibit, Dick’s Last Resort, Greg Norman’s Grille, Johnny Rockets, Chico’s, and White House/Black Market.

 

Sam designed Barefoot in the low country style characterized by wood shingle siding and corrugated metal roofs.  The original shells were built for $19.00 a square foot, achieved in part by using his own construction crews primarily consisting of labor from the nearby Lumbee Indian Nation living in Robeson County, NC.

 

When he first began laying out the placement of his Barefoot Landing shops along a boardwalk elevated above the water, he asked authorities to stake out the high water line to establish the required set-backs and subsequent no build zone.   But the surveyors failed to account for a seasonal low water line which resulted in a built boardwalk extending in part over the lake, which today allows visitors to see turtles, alligators, snakes, and water fowl up close.  However, many of the development’s mechanical systems were located under the boardwalk requiring a two men to wade in waste deep water to make repairs: one to work and one with a 10 foot pole to push the alligators away.

 

In a later phase, Sam and his son Jake added Alligator Adventure, one of the world’s largest reptile exhibits with 800 alligators, giant snakes, lizards, and turtles.  Only Sam could have assembled or even wanted to amass a collection of reptiles from such a diverse source of owners.  The stories and art of persuasion behind the search and purchase of the reptiles could fill an entire book. As I write this blog, I recall Sam’s accounts of lying on the floor of a backwater cabin in Louisiana one night, sipping bourbon with an old Cajun, trying to get him to depart with his granddaddy’s pet albino alligator.

 

One by one the star reptiles were assembled with Sam being the master ring master.  However, the bulk of his initial alligator population came from a Florida alligator farm.  Over a couple of days of on and off negotiations Sam closed the deal and was taken to the back ponds to see his purchase.  Suddenly, Sam realized, “how am I going to get hundreds of alligators back to Myrtle Beach?”

 

Sam went back to North Carolina, hired a group of Lumbees to go down to Florida and capture, wrestle, and transport his new assets back home  in livestock trailers.  To this day, I laugh thinking of the image of motorists on I-95 pulling up beside those hog trucks, peering through the side vents to get a glimpse of the pigs, only to have an alligator return their gaze. As I travel my own highways of life, I treasure my too few adventures with Sam Puglia.

 

From a real estate perspective, Barefoot Landing recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.  The development created the model for the subsequent Broadway at the Beach, developed by Burroughs and Chapin and provided me with a unique insight into adventures of resort retail.

 

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