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The Roanoke Times | File 2009
First & Main shopping center.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
The tenants of Blacksburg’s First & Main shopping center have endured a recession, ownership changes and anxiety-inducing uncertainty since the problem-plagued complex opened in 2008.
But those who stuck it out now have reason to hope they will be rewarded for their patience. And those who live near it hope the new developers honor their word to be good neighbors.
Several First & Main business owners and employees went home happy Tuesday night after the Blacksburg Town Council unanimously approved a zoning change that paves the way for a combination IMAX movie theater, restaurant and bowling alley to become an anchor tenant at the center.
For First & Main merchants, the planned CineBowl and Grille helps to validate the promise of a development that was conceived as an upscale shopping village that would revitalize Blacksburg’s southern gateway.
First & Main has struggled with high vacancy rates. The original developer surrendered the shopping center to a bank. The town went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court to defend an ordinance that effectively kept a big box store off the site.
Joe Pugliese, the owner of Sal’s at First & Main, told the town council Tuesday night: “The center has suffered greatly in recent years — broken promises, failed businesses, prospective tenants backing out.” The adjective “troubled” has been attached to First & Main so often that it’s practically become part of the center’s name.
A group that includes Virginia Tech alumnus David Street and his wife Elyssa bought the First & Main complex last year and set out to breathe new life into it.
Blacksburg APF Partners announced plans for the CineBowl and Grille in January, and the shopping center’s tenants rejoiced.
Residents on nearby Kennedy Avenue were not as excited. Some told the council Tuesday night that the shopping center’s previous owners failed to live up to promises to provide adequate protection from noise and light disturbances.
Even Jeff Mitchell, a local attorney representing Blacksburg APF Partners, said the residents “had been ignored and taken advantage of.” One Kennedy Avenue resident told the council that she and many of her neighbors were not opposed to the IMAX project, but were jaded and afraid based on their previous experience.
Mitchell and Nate Kiser, a representative of the shopping center manager, have held community meetings with Kennedy Avenue residents to hear their concerns. The developers amended their proffers and committed to spend up to $40,000 to install a noise abatement wrap on a boundary fence if they can’t agree to an alternative solution. They also committed to holding additional community meetings with residents of Kennedy Avenue and other nearby neighborhoods through 2015.
Councilwoman Krisha Chachra, the council’s liaison to First & Main businesses, said Mitchell and Kiser “raised the bar for the amount of personal attention a developer should give the community.” And, she rightly noted, it will be hard for them to go back on their word after establishing personal relationships with those residents.
Time will tell if the developers keep their word. But they made a good impression on council members, who surely will keep this experience in mind when they consider a rezoning application for the old Blacksburg Middle School property.
“I plan to use this process in the future for when we talk about future development,” said Councilman John Bush. Notice has been served.
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