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Kroger buys Ashton Place Shopping Center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kroger has purchased the Ashton Place Shopping Center.

The grocery store chain bought the shopping center off Corridor G from Desmond Fisher for $12.6 million on Nov. 20, according to Steve Duffield, supervisor of the Assessor's Commercial Department.

The sale was revealed Thursday when Hanley Investment Group Real Estate Advisors of Irvine, Calif., issued a press release about the transaction. Hanley said it acted as Fisher's agent. The company described Fisher as a private investor based in Tennessee. Hanley specializes in the sale of shopping centers.

Kroger is the anchor tenant in the 7.91-acre, 77,000-square-foot shopping center, which was 100 percent occupied at the time of the sale, Hanley said.

Kevin Fryman, Hanley's senior vice president, said, "Kroger was willing to pay the shopping center owner an aggressive price due to the fact this was a strong performing store within the Kroger chain. Kroger plans to expand and renovate the store, which the company has determined was undersized given their strong sales volume."

Asked why Kroger bought the shopping center instead of continuing to lease the store, Carl York, advertising and public affairs manager for Kroger's Mid-Atlantic Region, said, "Our approach has changed over the last several years.

"We are buying more of our real estate versus leasing or renting, where and when it makes sense," York said. "Kroger creates the value in many shopping centers; often, we're the anchor. To improve the shopping experience for our customers, it makes sense for us to own the whole shopping center. This was the thinking behind our expansion plans at Ashton."

Kroger owns its store in The Shops at Kanawha in Kanawha City but leases its store at Riverwalk Plaza in South Charleston.

Kroger has been upgrading its stores -- adding gas stations where space is available -- as it competes for grocery customers with Walmart, Target and others. A $9.6 million Kroger expansion at Ashton Place approved by Charleston City Council in September did not include a gas station.

Asked about the possibility of building a gas station at Ashton Place, York said, "No, I don't think so. The tenants there do really well. We need them to be successful to maintain that shopping center the way we need to maintain it."

Because of the configuration and size of the Ashton Place stores and parking lot, a gas station might be a tight fit.

Mary Jean Davis, an at large Democrat on Charleston Council, was instrumental in getting a bill passed selling land behind the store to Kroger to allow for the planned store expansion.

"This is very exciting for Ashton Place," Davis said Thursday of Kroger's purchase of the shopping center. "This will help improve the whole complex and shopping center immensely."

Davis said she hasn't heard anything about any facility-wide upgrades. Davis believes Kroger was interested in purchasing the entire shopping facility in order to make sure it would not fall into disrepair, especially after the company announced plans to invest millions of dollars into the store.

Ashton Place is the second area shopping center to change hands within the past year.

Kimco Realty Corp. sold Riverwalk Plaza and four other shopping centers to Zamias Services Inc. and Bon Aviv Investment LLC for a grand total of $68 million in April 2012. Zamias also owns the Dunbar Village Plaza in Dunbar.

First Continental Development of Knoxville, Tenn., carved the Ashton Place Shopping Center out of a hollow in 1988 at a cost of $8 million. Some local residents opposed construction of the center, arguing that it would increase traffic. Several road-widening projects were subsequently undertaken to improve traffic flow in the area.

With 52,337-square-feet of space and 240 employees, Ashton Place was Kroger's third so-called "superstore" in the Kanawha Valley. Kroger opened large stores in Kanawha City and at South Charleston prior to the Ashton Place store's opening in 1989.

During construction of the Ashton Place store, Kroger billed it as "the gourmet of our stores." It replaced a store Kroger had been operating on Oakwood Road.

Ashton Place is in South Hills, one of the wealthiest areas in West Virginia.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger has 38 stores in the Mountain State, including 12 stores and 6 fuel centers in the Kanawha Valley.

The company has about 3,980 employees in West Virginia. It is the fourth-largest private employer in the state, behind Walmart, West Virginia United Health System and Charleston Area Medical Center, according to WorkForce West Virginia.

Kroger is the sixth-largest employer in Kanawha County. Reporter Paul Fallon contributed to this story.


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