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Firm hired to enhance Vickery's retail side
Jonathan Michael restocks toppings at Chill Hill, a frozen yogurt shop in Vickery Village. - photo by Autumn McBride

Vickery Village, once one of the most talked about developments in the region, became home to the darkened windows of vacant stores following a 2008 foreclosure.

But that’s all about to change, said Dwight Bell, president and chief executive officer of Cannon Equities.

Bell’s company has been selected by Vickery owner Wells Fargo to bring business back to the village.

“The good news is the bank has made the decision to enhance value and hang onto it and really take a very orderly approach to it,” Bell said. “We want to revitalize the commercial retail ... and there’s no question that it will be successful.”

Vickery, a 214-acre mixed-use development at Major and Post roads in south Forsyth, was the brainchild of Hedgewood Properties.

At its peak, the project was dubbed the blueprint by which mixed-use developments would be measured.

In October 2008, however, Wachovia Corp. foreclosed on all its collateral at Vickery, including residential sites and all retail property in the village.

Cannon representatives have gone to the existing seven businesses in Vickery to let them know about the plans.

It was a turning point said Jill Chatham, who has owned the Flower Post in Vickery for nearly four years.

“I’m very positive about it. I think they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do,” she said. “We’ve been more encouraged in the last six months than we have in a long time.”

Cannon started with an assessment to begin stabilizing the development. A campaign to attract business began in January.

It’s worked for Paul Stewart, owner of the Chill Hill frozen yogurt shop.

Stewart, who is a resident of Vickery, said he decided to keep alive the dessert theme of the free-standing location’s former tenant.

“I just felt like with all the families in the area, that a self-service frozen yogurt store would go really well,” he said. “One of the really cool things about the business is just watching families ... sitting outside and just enjoying a few minutes out of their entire week.”

Bell said Stewart and future tenants will benefit from the village’s new, competitive lease and purchase rates, which he estimates are about 25 to 30 percent lower than they were previously.

“We’ve reset our pricing on both our commercial retail and residential to calibrate to the current market conditions,” Bell said.

It’s a fair rate, said Stewart, who admits he was leery of starting a business in a largely vacant center.

“I just took a chance. At some point in time, you’ve just got to take a chance in your life,” he said.

Though no longer involved with Vickery Village, Pam Sessions, co-founder and chief executive of Hedgewood, said she’s optimistic about the development's future.

Sessions is currently working on 50 residential lots in Vickery that a private investor purchased last year.

Citing the commercial aspect, Sessions said the development will “continue to set the standard for mixed-use communities.”

Along with the commercial portion of Vickery, Bell said the bank has decided to start building homes on its lots.

Vickery has about 350 homes, town homes and condos, but there’s room for nearly 600 residences. Cannon is finalizing details with prominent builders, Bell said.

He said the commercial portion of the development is about 61,000 square feet, with nearly 35,000 square feet remaining.

In just the past few months, an 11,000-square-foot office building was sold, a dentist bought an office condo, the Chill Hill moved in and Sidney’s Pizza Parlor expanded, Bell said.

Julie Black, general manager of Sidney’s, said she’s excited about the restaurant’s future.

Between new ownership and more space for large groups and parties, she’s preparing for brisk spring and summer business.

“We expect to get a lot of people coming in,” she said. “This is a type of place that once you park your car, you want to walk around and look at things, so I think by doing that, people will be coming in here.”

Black said she expects business to improve as Cannon attracts more tenants.

Chatham said she’s been lucky. Though walk-in business has been slow, she does “a lot of weddings, so that’s pretty much what sustains us.”

But she said she hopes the new push at the village will draw more visitors.

“It’s a great shopping center," she said. "There’s good activity and the people in the neighborhood are very supportive. We love it here, we really do. It just feels like home.”

Bell said Cannon is targeting retail businesses focusing on home goods, apparel and other businesses that would support the community’s needs.

Once the village is flourishing, Bell said Wells Fargo would seek investors to take over on a long-range plan to keep Vickery up and running.

He said that goal could be realized as soon as 18 to 36 months.

“We’ve got some positive momentum now and we want to build on that and get the center back up to 100 percent and as vibrant as it once was,” he said.