Shopping center's new owners plan facade

By Thomas Wilson
A new look and new tenants top the to do list of the real estate company that purchased the Bemberg Shopping Center last week.
"We intend to try to spend a little money, spruce it up, revitalize it, and reestablish it," said Mike Nidiffer, co-owner of Interstate Realty and Development in Bristol, Tenn., which purchased the property as the Bemberg Shopping Center, LLC holding company on Oct. 17.
The company paid just over $1.9 million to buy the 13.28-acre property on West Elk Avenue one week before the property was to be auctioned to the highest bidder. The property was foreclosed on Sept. 22 after Seville Properties I, Inc. of Brasleton, Ga., defaulted on its mortgage to First Tennessee Bank, according to the foreclosure notice.
Nidiffer said the planned Wal-Mart Supercenter store and speculation of a possible Lowe's hardware superstore motivated the company's interest in the Elizabethton market.
"Elizabethton is a very viable market; we wouldn't have put that kind of money into it if we didn't think so," he said.
Citing rumors about the property's fate, Nidiffer said the company had no plans to demolish the shopping center or evict current tenants.
"We intend to sit down and talk to every tenant there and see what their plans are," said Nidiffer. "We're not tearing it down; it is in too good a condition to tear it down."
White's Stores, AutoZone, and the Salvation Army Thrift Shop are the shopping center's biggest tenants. Amigo's Restaurant and the Medicine Shoppe pharmacy lease outparcels on the property. Several tenant leases with Seville Properties -- including White's -- were month-to-month with the previous ownership.
President and chief executive officer of White's Discount Foods, Doug White, said on Tuesday the company had no plans to close its West Elk Avenue location. The supermarket chain has announced the closure of its Mountain City and Indian Springs locations in the past week.
Interstate Realty and Development owns several shopping centers including locations in Bluefield, Va., Huntington, W. Va., Johnson City, and Bristol. Nidiffer said the firm always used limited liability companies to purchase properties primarily to separate their shopping center away from one corporate umbrella.
After improving the visual package, the company's biggest challenge is finding retail tenants to fill out roughly 48,000 square space of vacant retail space in the center. Nidiffer said the center had roughly 48,000 square feet of vacant space with 41,000 feet being the former Heck's building. "If we could get a tenant for that, we could lease the smaller space fairly easy," said Nidiffer, who added that the company had a "a few people" looking in the available space.
A phase II environmental assessment and a letter issued March 20, 2003, by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, found no near-surface soil concerns on the shopping center property. In their letter, TDEC officials said the property was not part of the American Bemberg plant site and was not subject to any additional environmental assessment or corrective action.
"We would have never purchased it had it had environmental issues," said Nidiffer.
Nidiffer said the company planned to review the center's existing roof and implement signage standards for all tenants.
"It may take us a while to do what we really want to do," he said. "It definitely needs some money spent on it."