BY GLENN PUIT
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The new owner of the Cherryland Center in Garfield Township wants to attract more businesses to the property with exterior upgrades and an improved parking lot.
“We are looking at bringing other businesses in, and we are talking to several people,” said Developer V. Kumar Vemulapalli, who described himself as the property manager on behalf of its new corporate owner, Darga LLC.
“We want to make improvements to the property, including fixing the parking lot, to help bring in new business and customers,” Vemulapalli said.
Darga LLC purchased Cherryland Center in an online auction for $3.1 million, and took control of a property that for years languished in bank ownership.
The property is anchored by Kmart and Sears and houses a diverse set of tenants including a GameStop, Quiznos and the Armed Forces Recruitment Center. Some tenants told the Record-Eagle they are encouraged by Darga LLC’s commitment to garner more commerce at the center, noting the property has huge potential. It’s already in a solid location hemmed by vehicle traffic on Garfield and South Airport roads.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Paul Barbas, owner of the popular Opa Coney and Grill restaurant at the center. “We shouldn’t be afraid of change. If we could fill more spaces the whole complex survives ... and the more of a village feel we create.”
Rick and Lisa Foytik own the Nogginz hair salon at the center, which opened in February. Rick Foytik said “so far so good” when asked what it’s like to do business in the shopping center. He said he sees the new ownership as an opportunity to improve the complex and increase business.
Rick Foytik said he’d like to see increased road signage on Garfield and South Airport, letting motorists know exactly what businesses are in the complex.
“More road signage so people who are driving down Garfield or South Airport would know what is in there,” Rick Foytik said. “I think people would be surprised. It’s a nice shopping complex.”
Vemulapalli has an interesting history as a property owner. The businessman was ensnared in a lengthy fight with the city of the Flint over the fate of the Vemulapalli-owned Genesee Towers property in downtown Flint. He bought the tallest building in Flint in an online auction but quickly found himself in the crosshairs of city officials who believed the property was not being adequately maintained.
The city at one point condemned the high-profile property, but Vemulapalli fought back and sued the city. Vemulapalli eventually received a whopping $8 million judgement, including attorney fees and interest, after he and the city agreed to enter into binding arbitration.
Vemulapalli said the judgement was just, considering what he went through as a private property owner.
“I took the property back in 1997 and around 2000-2001 the people next door -- they didn’t like the property next to them,” Vemulapalli said. “They wanted to buy it and demolish it.”
The Cherryland Center was once owned by Cherryland Mall LP. The company halted payments on its mortgage in 2009. Wells Fargo foreclosed in 2010.
Vemulapalli said Darga LLC is committed to improving the property.