Church interested in First & Main; lease restrictions an issue
Declaring “Christians spend money, too,” a Blacksburg pastor has been angling to hold church services at the town’s half-vacant First & Main shopping center.
But even though the center needs foot traffic, no praises will be sung at First & Main because the center is not open to non-retail enterprises, an official said.
Jeff Noble, lead pastor at Northstar Church, said he pitched the idea that congregation members are also potential shoppers who could bring needed foot traffic and sales to the South Main Street center.
“I would think that any retailer would perk up a little bit at the idea of 600 to 700 people trafficking a shopping center a couple days a week,” Noble said. “You know how Baptists like to eat.”
Noble said shopping center representatives in recent months declined to allow him to make a formal proposal to lease some of the excess square footage at the retail center. He said he would have needed a substantial break in the rent and hoped to propose a month-to-month arrangement. After being turned down, he said he is now waiting to see if a new owner buys the bank-owned property, at which point he will ask again.
Northstar holds Sunday services at Blacksburg High School and its Easter gatherings today are scheduled at a large meeting room at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. The congregation is a mix of families and college students.
Because of membership growth, a committee of church leaders is searching for a larger location. Three Sunday services draw more than 500 people combined, Noble said, which is why the former site of a Books-A-Million at First & Main holds appeal.
That store, vacant since late September 2011, is 16,000 square feet.
Sheryl Simeck, spokeswoman for The Rappaport Companies, which manages the center, said several existing leases prohibit non-retail tenants.
Meghan Pugliese, owner of Piccolini, a children’s store, described herself as neutral about the church’s overture but added she could warm to it.
“I would love to see a new tenant that pays their monthly rent that can bring people in. Anything to help the center thrive,” she said.
First & Main opened in late 2008, during the recession, and never hit its stride. About 50 percent of the square footage is vacant, a Roanoke Times analysis found. The developer wanted to bring a Walmart to an adjacent lot, but the expansion was blocked by town officials.
In late 2010, outstanding real estate debt led Wells Fargo, which lent money to the project, to take possession of the property. Wells Fargo said late last year the center would be put up for sale in 2012.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1661