Big Box Buzz: Town atwitter over activity at old Walmart

Published 11:42 am Friday, May 29, 2015

Star Photo/Ashley Rader The old Walmart building has been vacant for many years.

Star Photo/Ashley Rader
The old Walmart building has been vacant for many years.

Questions and rumors concerning a long-unoccupied building in the heart of Elizabethton have intensified during recent weeks, as Elizabethton residents have noticed that something seems different at the old Walmart property at 791 W. Elk Avenue.
Their curiosity spurred a number of calls to the Star, with reports of trucks coming and going and an unusual amount of activity at the empty building.
Since Magic Mart — the most recent tenant of the building — closed almost five years ago, the building has remained empty. But in recent weeks, the parking lot has been cordoned off and a cleanup crew has been sighted moving about the property — all fodder for rumors that a new business or businesses may be coming to the location.
At least one man, James A. “Jimmy” Black of Greensboro, N.C., appears to have many of the answers concerning the property’s future, but he isn’t sharing much information yet.
Black is the principal and president of Alliance Commercial Property Management, a third-party property management service that controls the building.
Black’s company currently holds the former Walmart property in receivership. Simply put, a receivership is an alternative to a foreclosure proceeding, in which a lender takes ownership of the property, or a bankruptcy proceeding, when a trustee takes control.
Receivers are court-appointed individuals given custodial responsibility of a property that serves as collateral for a loan in default. Receivers step in and replace the property owner as the active property manager and make regarding management and operations.
Those decisions often include making improvements — such as the cleanup work currently underway — finishing any necessary construction and preparing the property for sale.
When contacted about the building, Black was polite but hesitant to say much about his company’s involvement with the 104,484-square-foot structure.
“We are looking for other owners or users,” Black told the Star by phone. “But this is a process, and we are in the middle of all that you have to go through with that.”
“The property lends itself to a multitude of uses, and we have had some interest in the building,” he said. “But I have a confidentially agreement that I had to sign with the lender, so that’s about all I can say.”
Black also said he could not comment on who future tenants might be or any time line for a possible occupancy.
In the meantime, the building is undergoing a deep cleaning by PuroClean of Greensboro.
A visit to the site revealed a group of workers removing plasterboard and other debris from the building.
PuroClean spokesman Mike Stratton confirmed that the company has removed all of the floor and the ceiling tiles, as well as mildewed walls.
Not a moment too soon, according to Black, who said the building “was left in a shabby state of affairs.”
Black has a long track record of success. With about 30 years in the real estate business, Black has been heavily involved with downtown revitalization. The founder of Downtown Greensboro Inc., Black is given much of the credit for the growth and improvements in that city’s downtown district.
In 2010, Alliance Commercial Property Management Co. merged with NAI Piedmont Triad property management company. Shortly thereafter, ACPM formed joint venture partnerships to provide property management services for six southeastern NAI offices in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee.
ACPM has grown to encompass 70 properties, spread from Savannah, Ga., to Knoxville.
The company’s Knoxville partner is NAI Knoxville, the real estate company that has been marketing the property — the building and its 10.61 acres. The rental rate is listed at $34,828 a month — or $4 per square foot.
Sam Tate, CCIM, of NAI Knoxville is one of the listed brokers for the property.
“I just don’t know what to tell you about the property,” Tate told the Star by phone. “We have had a party interested in it, but the title is complicated on it; the property is tied together with another property out of state.
“It’s almost impossible to do anything with the building,” Tate added. “Until there’s a foreclosure sale on it, there may not be any resolution on it.”
A foreclosure sale may be sooner than later, according to Tate, who said he believes a sale may be in the works for the end of June.
Tate was quick to point out that his group is working for the receivership — ACPM — and not the current owners, whose exact identity also remains somewhat of a mystery.
According to Tate’s records, Walmart acquired the property in 1987 and constructed the building in 1988. The company later sold it to DASH Inc. Then, in May 2007, it was purchased by EKM LLC of Irving.
And that is where the property’s exact ownership gets fuzzy.
“We’ve been trying to determine exactly who has the control of it ourselves,” Tate said. “The owner still has ownership of it until the foreclosure sale. After that, I don’t know what the status will be.
“The receiver is who we’ve been working for, and we can continue to consider lease offers on the property,” Tate added. “But purchase proposals are difficult to work through right now.”

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