When the Pineland Station shopping center opened its doors for business in 1975, Hilton Head was the full-time home to 6,500 people and a tourist destination for 250,000.

Now, the island is the home address for nearly 40,000 permanent residents and a vacation mecca for 2.5 million.

The face of the island has changed dramatically over the past 40 years and, unfortunately, so has the face of Pineland, located on the north end of Route 278 – and not for the better. It looks old, outdated and in dire need of modernization.

“Hilton Head is in need of an upgrade,” said Jonathan Guion, director of development for Wheeler Development in Virginia. Pineland Associates, a partnership, purchased the property in 2004, and Wheeler Real Estate Co. is the leasing and management agent. “A lot of the buildings were built many years ago and need to be freshened up. You want to keep people interested in coming back. You can’t stay stuck in 30 years ago.”

Although many of the project’s details are still a work in progress, Guion did say, “We’re trying to create something that is unique and good for Hilton Head.”

In addition to new retailers and restaurants, Guion said the open-air facility, one of the island’s first four decades ago, will feature educational stations, artistic elements, a modern coastal architectural design by Court Atkins Architects in Bluffton, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and paths, renovation of the center’s public spaces, comfortable seating vignettes, and manicured landscaping.

“Aesthetically, we’re trying to blend in and do what fits into the town’s good feel,” said Guion, who has been a frequent island visitor through the years. “On top of that, we’re going to create a fun atmosphere, so we’re not just going in and building a shopping center.

“These improvements will ensure that the center continues to thrive and respond to the community and its visitors as it looks to the next 50 years,” Guion said.

Current tenants Stein Mart, the center’s anchor since the beginning, and Starbucks are staying put and eagerly awaiting the restoration’s completion by the end of 2016, which Guion calls a “broad target date.” The center will remain open for business during the eventual transition.

How much Pineland Station, which has been renamed the Sea Turtle Marketplace, will grow beyond its 128,166 square feet on 10 acres remains to be seen. Guion put a $25 million value on the project, which is about double Pineland’s value now.

“We’re still in the process of design, so we have a couple of different options based upon tenants and what their needs are so that will determine the size,” said Laura Nguyen, director of marketing for Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust. “We’re working with retailers now who have a lot of interest in the site.”

The company is hoping to attract local, regional and national tenants, she said.

Guion confirmed that Food Lion, one of the anchors at Wheeler’s other shopping centers along the East Coast, will not be coming to Sea Turtle Marketplace.

Guion conceded that he hoped the project would have been kicked off by now. “We have to have inspections completed to start any kind of demolitions, and those inspections are still going through (at the state level),” he said. “So we’re waiting for permits and inspections to be completed before we can start doing what we want to do.”

But there has been some progress with the Town of Hilton Head.

“They have received approval for the conceptual design plan (from the Design Review Board) for the entire shopping center, that’s conceptual only, and they’re breaking it into phases,” said Jill Foster, deputy director of the Community Development Department.

The board also has approved the exterior design plans for Stein Mart, which is “ready to move forward,” said Heather Colin, development review administrator. No building permits have been filed yet.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.