Wednesday, July 04, 2012
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Anonymous group buys Blacksburg's First & Main

The group of out-of-area Hokie alumni aims to stabilize the center, the group's lawyer said.

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Wells Fargo has sold the struggling First & Main shopping center in Blacksburg to a group of out-of-area Virginia Tech alumni, Blacksburg lawyer Jeff Mitchell said Tuesday.

Mitchell said he represents the buyer group and that its members do not want to be publicly identified for the time being.

He declined to say how many there are or where they live.

Acting on "a strong affinity for the university and region," the group signed paperwork to close the deal Friday, Mitchell said.

The sale sets the stage for the new owner to try and fill a dozen or so vacant storefronts and find tenants to build on outparcels.

"The first goal is to stabilize the center, recognizing that the challenges did not occur overnight," Mitchell said. "But the main goal is to complete the project. And that will take time."

First & Main is an open-air collection of stores, services and dining designed to appeal to upper-income consumers. The shopping center opened amid controversy in October 2008. The developer, based in Ohio, took the town of Blacksburg to court over the town's decision to strictly regulate a proposed big-box store on adjacent land thought to be a Walmart.

The town won the case. Walmart never came, nor did a proposed movie theater. About 20 stories have hung on, however, through challenges including a decision by Wells Fargo, which lent money for the center, to reclaim the property in late 2010.

The shopping center lost multiple tenants in 2011, including its largest, Books-A-Million, and was half vacant by early 2012.

The new owner has given day-to-day management duties to Chrysolite Management Group LLC, a Kingsport, Tenn., real estate management company.

The Rappaport Cos.is no longer in that role, Rappaport spokeswoman Sheryl Simeck said Tuesday.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Kristy Marshall said she was prohibited from identifying the new owners or discussing the transaction.

Mark Shrader of Bull & Bones Brewhaus & Grill, a First & Main tenant, said he met a representative of the buyer group, though not the buyers, and is encouraged.

"I think it's going to be great for the center," Shrader said.

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