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Downtown Moneta drawing folks to shop, live there

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Though tough economic times have hit other projects hard, the Downtown Moneta and Mayberry Hills development is adjusting and thriving.

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    New leases are being signed, new residential units are being built and people are being drawn to the area.

    According to developer George Aznavorian, people are looking for ways to have affordable evenings out. Hence Downtown Celebrations, an effort to provide free entertainment while attracting people to the stores there.

    “The car shows have been really successful,” Aznavorian said. As were a series of summer concerts.

    Those celebrations have also been an opportunity to allow churches to hold events, providing a “win-win” scenario, he said.

    “We’d like to see the churches grow and be supported,” he said. “And it draws retail pedestrian traffic in.”

    The Christmas season is one example. This Friday evening, Dec. 4, area residents can help  “Light Up” the town center while enjoying a festive atmosphere. Christmas trees will be available for purchase and there will be horse and carriage rides to take those attending all throughout Downtown Moneta, for $2 per person.  The Morgan’s Baptist Church Kids Choir will perform at 6:30 p.m., and the Harmeneers will sing at 7 p.m.  Santa will make an appearance.

    It’s all part of the vision that was cast long before the project broke ground.

    “That’s helped us tremendously,” Aznavorian said of the Downtown Moneta events.

    And while other areas are suffering through housing downturns, Aznavorian believes the project is adjusting to meet the current needs.

    “Our housing is moderately priced,” he said. Those include new two- and three-bedroom patio homes.

    Those homes, he said, will be geared to first-time homebuyers, starting around the $200,000 level. “We all have to adapt to the market for what it is,” he said.

    And, according to realtor Jody Lyons, “This is what the market’s asking for.”

    Currently Mayberry Hills has some 35 homes, 26 town homes and 20 luxury condos with about 50 percent filled. He said the proximity to Downtown Moneta has been a big draw. In addition to the housing at Mayberry Hills, there are a number of opportunities available above the businesses as well, including 12 apartments in a new building that will have a Japanese steak house. Half of the business space in that building is filled though it’s not even complete.

    In all some 60 different households are living in either Mayberry Hills or Downtown Moneta.

    While other area retail space remains empty, the space in Downtown Moneta is filling up.

    “The rental and the rent-to-own market is good right now,” Lyons said. “Mixed use, that is the trend. ...People coming from northern Virginia are used to this.”

    And are seeking it out. “It’s what people are looking for who come in from other areas,” he said.

    Businesses locating in Downtown Moneta are varied, from an optician to a jewelry store, a pizzeria to a deli and country store.

    Some 50 percent of the retail space is filled.

    The Downtown Moneta offerings also include a beauty salon, an attorney’s office, a tanning salon, and a bakery. And the residential housing above is doing well. A daycare center there is thriving.

    “We’re in conversation with commercial developers as well, name-brand companies,” Lyons said.

    The YMCA has moved there next to Centra Health and there are now a number of medical services available. More than 50 new family memberships have been added to the YMCA since its move.

    What has helped the development to be successful, even in tough economic times?

    “First of all, I think it’s the people,” Lyons said of George and Michelle Aznavorian. “They are very good business people and they’re very well liked in the community.”

    That came from a concerted effort, before the development ever broke ground. Some 25 civic and town hall meetings were held to present the project to the community, and to receive input on it. There was also the matter of securing public water and sewer from Bedford County, a key to getting the project off the ground. Forming that public/private partnership was the first domino that had to fall.

    “A lot of people thought we were crazy, I’m sure,” Lyons said.

    But, he said, as people voiced what they wanted included — restaurants, an expanded YMCA, medical services — plans for those were made.” That was what people were looking for,” Lyons said.

    Reservations and pre-sales were secured, even before the development broke ground.

    And Lyons said Gil and Karen Smith had a passion to bring good restaurants to the development.

    The developers see their product as unique in this area. They’ve been encouraged by the traffic generated and expect even more as word gets out. People, they say, will be impressed.

    “The team working together trying to complement each other has been key. We help each other fill the buildings up,” Lyons said. “We try to make it work for each person involved.”

    He said the project has allowed them to provide affordable housing with a Lake address at a good price.

    Lyons said the commercial market hasn’t been overbuilt in southwest Virginia as it has been in other parts of the country.

    “I think the area has a bright future,” he said.