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Kroger buys Ashton Place shopping center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An arm of the Kroger Co. has bought the Ashton Place shopping center, home of the company's South Hills supermarket.

The sale was announced Thursday by Hanley Investment Group Real Estate Advisors of Irvine, Calif., which brokered the deal between Kroger Limited Partnership of Cincinnati and a private party in Tennessee.

Although terms were not announced, records show the purchase price was $12.8 million.

Kroger initiated the purchase because of its previously announced plans to expand the store, said Kevin Fryman, a senior vice president with the Hanley Group. The company specializes in the sale of community and neighborhood shopping centers, along with other retail property.

"I had sold other groceries and centers on the East Coast," Fryman said. "The owner contacted me to handle the negotiations."

The previous owner, a doctor, was not experienced in real estate, he said.

"Kroger was interested in owning the property. They wanted to expand that store. They could do so with the cooperation of the landlord or by becoming the landlord," Fryman said. "They found it easier to buy the property."

Although the Hanley Group lists a number of small shopping centers for sale on its website, Ashton Place was never advertised. "It was never intended for sale to the public," Fryman said. "Kroger initiated it with the owner."

Since it opened in 1989, Ashton Place has gone through several owners. First Continental Development of Knoxville, the original developer, soon ran into money problems and couldn't find permanent financing for the center, according to previous reports.

First American Bank of Nashville foreclosed in December 1990 and sold the property a few weeks later to the Corker Group Inc. of Chattanooga.

Corker -- whose president, Bob Corker, is now one of Tennessee's U.S. senators -- sold Ashton Place in 1999 to Desmond L. Fischer, according to records at the Kanawha County Courthouse.

Fischer sold it to Kroger on Nov. 28 for $12.8 million, said Steve Duffield, supervisor of commercial property in the county appraiser's office.

Kroger folks had little to say about the deal on Thursday.

"We did purchase the shopping center," said Carl York, a spokesman for Kroger's Mid-Atlantic office in Roanoke. "We did it in December.

"That's been our approach of late -- to buy the shopping centers, where it makes sense. Kroger is the anchor. We create the value, especially where we're expanding and trying to put new things in our stores."

The expansion plan, first announced in August, hasn't changed, York said, although the starting date has been pushed back. Kroger plans to spend about $10 million to add about 16,800 square feet to the 52,000-square-foot store, he said.

York said he wasn't sure, but assumed other tenants in the shopping center had been notified of the change in ownership.

"Tenants won't be affected. A rising tide lifts all boats," he said.

Kroger now owns the store it had leased for 23 years, York said. "It allows us to expand the store the way we want to expand it."

Construction is now scheduled to start in March or April. "It takes about a year to do something like this. It's pretty extensive," York said.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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