A new owner plans to upgrade Oak Grove Plaza, a sleepy Roanoke County suburban shopping center that’s ripe for new homes and businesses, according to a community study.
The venerable strip mall at Electric Road and Grandin Road Extention is showing its age. In the opinion of area residents, it’s tired-looking and unkept. Weather has begun to wear away the raised letters of its roadside marquee.
Kirtesh Patel, the managing member of a real estate company that bought the commercial complex recently, agreed during an interview that the plaza, built in 1964, is an “eyesore” today.
Patel said he is talking with a possible “national tenant” for the center’s largest space, measuring 12,000 square feet, which is now empty.
A lease on the anchor space will fund needed maintenance work, he said, which will involve installing new roofing and HVAC units, resurfacing the parking lot, upgrading parking lot lights and the shopping center sign and repainting buildings.
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“Our goal for the next three years is to just keep the money in it, improve it and hopefully after that break even,” Patel said. “I bought it to keep it.”
Patel is a real estate developer with Omma Management LLC in Salem. An affiliate of Omma paid $4.8 million for the center Jan. 30, according to online Roanoke County real estate records. Cushman & Wakefield — Thalhimer announced the sale.
At least 16 businesses operate there, including three restaurants.
Nickey Roberts, who operates a pet grooming business in the plaza, said she would welcome sitting down with Patel to discuss her lease. Because her lease renews monthly, “it’s been years of uncertainty here,” she said. “I haven’t wanted to invest any money in it because without a lease, they can tell you to get out.”
Patel said that, under his plan, each tenant will “get a longer lease so they can invest in their business and feel more secure about staying there.” Five tenants have signed new leases so far, Patel said.
On a separate parcel, the owner of a convenience store and gas station has placed his big bet on the Electric Road business corridor. Timir Patel of Bonsack bought a closed service station that had been a Shell and undertook a total makeover. For nearly $1.4 million, he acquired the old station, removed a mechanic’s shop, built a convenience store, changed the pumps and improved the building’s exterior, he said.
A muralist drew a young woman and a flock of butterflies on the side of the building so it no longer would have a “gas station look and feel,” he said.
“We are doing much better than what we had projected,” he said.
Oak Grove Plaza is the first parcel west of Roanoke city limits at Electric Road and Grandin Road Extension. County and city officials have published a 20-year plan on the future of the Oak Grove area. The plan described Electric Road as an aging commercial corridor brimming with opportunities for commercial and residential investment.Before 225 years ago, Native AmericansAmerican Indians called the land with two creeks below Poor Mountain home. Scotch-Irish and German immigrants pushed them out and took up farming starting in about 1799, the Oak Grove plan said. Developers further transformed the area from the 1960s to the 1980s from an agricultural area to an auto-centric suburb, with the new, four-laned Virginia 419 (Electric Road) as its Main Street.
The plaza’s first tenant was the grocer Mick-or-Mack, which occupied the now-vacant space Patel is trying to fill. A gas station, pharmacy and bank established locations in the plaza and McDonalds opened in 1996.
Despite the presence of Oak Grove Elementary School and nearby neighborhoods of single family homes, there are virtually no sidewalks, except for in small patches of newer development.
Eighty-six percent of Oak Grove area residents are white and the average household income is high for the Roanoke Valley at $87,013, the Oak Grove study, adopted in 2021, found.
During the next 10 to 20 years, planners advocate for a “medium density infill and mixed-use type development pattern,” with “walkable, dense, one to two-story development with on-street parking, outdoor seating and wide, landscaped sidewalks.”
Further, the plan calls for “new buildings located along 419 in current parking lots.”
The area around the plaza is ideal for new housing and a community center with public events.
Members of the public trashed Oak Grove Plaza in comments to study consultants. “Aesthetics of Oak Grove Plaza are terrible. Needs to be demolished and completely rebuilt,” said one commenter. Oak Grove Plaza is, another said, “really a disgrace.”
Others like the area as it is. “NO to this “reimagining!” NO to high density housing here,” a commenter said.
Government staff intend to “work with private property and business owners to identify and support development or redevelopment of potential catalyst sites,” the plan said. The area also needs pedestrian and bike lanes on Electric Road, better intersections, more landscaping, new signs and “street furniture,” the plan said.
Kirtesh Patel said he had not read the plan and didn’t consider it before the purchase. His focus is facility upgrades, along with transitioning the plaza’s tenants away from month-to-month leases.
Asked if he would consider new construction beside Electric Road, Patel said, “That would be my future, that’s not my immediate goal. My immediate goal is to stabilize it. I think that’s more important than building a new space for profit.”