An Atlanta development company has bought the Lenoir shopping center anchored by Belk and Tractor Supply Co., and plans to make improvements to fill its vacant storefronts.

Lenoir Retail I, a limited liability company started by Vanguard Associates, purchased the shopping center on Blowing Rock Boulevard behind the former Jack in the Box restaurant – which is not part of the purchase – for $2.2 million. On its website, Vanguard describes itself as a “property management and primarily big-box development company with a main focus on the retail sector.”

Vern Hakes, who handled the deal for Vanguard, said the company expects to maintain ownership after renovations and improvements.

“We buy shopping centers that have issues and redevelop them,” Hakes said. “The majority of the time we lease, manage and hold on to them. Any time we buy something, we’re comfortable owning it.”

He said the company manages about 30 shopping centers in the Southeast, with Tractor Supply a tenant in several, including recent Vanguard additions in Tifton, Ga., and Leesburg, Fla.

Hakes said he hopes Vanguard can maintain long-term relationships with Belk and Tractor Supply, which are currently under lease agreements in the two northern-most storefronts. He said Vanguard has been in touch with several prospective tenants for the other spaces.

“We’re going to try to turn a vacant eyesore into a thriving shopping center,” Hakes said. “We hope to have them up to full capacity. We want to make sure everything looks nice. Empty space doesn’t do anything good for anybody.”

Hakes said Vanguard may divide the largest of the vacant spaces – formerly a Bi-Lo grocery store – into two retail spaces.

Hakes said the property, which has been called Lenoir Festival Shopping Center, was the finest site available in Lenoir.

Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Deborah Murray said she worked with at least three parties in buying the shopping center.

“Anybody who wants to get in there and do something with it, I’m excited about it,” Murray said. “It was a highly prized piece of property. My hope is that somebody is going to get in there and really work it.”

By John Brasier, (Lenoir) News-Topic