Foreclosure auction puts Oak Park in new hands

Foreclosure auction puts Oak Park in new hands

December 7th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business

Cars fill the parking lot in front of Walmart on Wednesday at the Oak Park Town Center shopping development on Highway 153.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

For the second time in three months, one of Hixson's biggest shopping centers is selling for a sharp discount.

Oak Park Partners LLC of Rome, Ga., offered Tuesday a winning bid of $9 million for Oak Park Town Center on Highway 153, said W. Scott Ray of property trustee Harry B. Ray & Associates.

The center, whose retailers include Walmart, Old Navy and Office Depot, is appraised at $16.5 million by the Hamilton County Assessor of Property. Built in 2001 by Wolford Development, the center was sold Tuesday at a foreclosure auction.

In September, nearby Northgate Mall on Highway 153 was bought by Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Properties Inc. from General Growth Properties for $11.5 million. The mall had been appraised at $30.1 million.

Wright Ledbetter, manager of Oak Park Partners, said it plans to attract added retailers and businesses to Oak Park Town Center, bringing new jobs, goods and services.

He termed the center "one of the finest retail and service destinations in the Hixson-Chattanooga market." Plans are to retain Wolford Management LLC to manage the center, Ledbetter said.

Tom Kale Jr., president of Chattanooga real estate firm Commercial Associates, said prices for the centers reflect a drop in property values along with a shake-out in tenants since the 2008 economic downturn.

He said a lot of medium-box retailers have either gone under or scaled back.

However, Kale said the moves show a resurgence by some groups who've been sitting on cash.

"They think it's the right time to come off a little of their cash, which is great for the economy has a whole," he said.

Ledbetter is associated with Rome-based shopping center developer and manager R.H. Ledbetter Properties. The company has a 1.4 million-square-foot portfolio, including property in Goodlettsville, Tenn. In North Georgia, it has holdings in Rome, Dalton, Ellijay, Jasper, Cartersville and Marietta.

Wolford Development of Chattanooga borrowed $17 million from a lending consortium organized by JPMorgan Bank to build Oak Park Town Center.

Property trustee Harry Ray said Wolford defaulted on the note. He said Oak Park Partners stepped in and bought the note. It then foreclosed on the note and now it's buying the shopping center.

The center this summer was 69 percent occupied, according to Auction.com.

Kale said the prices paid for Oak Park and Northgate Mall could affect a proposed shopping-office-residential complex announced in October for the Highway 153 area.

Scenic Land Co. hopes to build a 280-unit apartment complex and 763,320 square feet of commercial space, including a movie theater, a retail center and grocery store, according to preliminary plans.

"I'm not totally convinced there's the demand for that much more retail," Kale said.

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