The old Walmart building beside Big Lots has been sold to a commercial real estate development company which could turn that vacant space into a movie theater or some retail business, local officials said.

And the rest of the shopping center next to it has a new owner as well.

Both City Manager Bob Boyette and McDowell Chamber Director Steve Bush said the vacant 42,000-square-feet old Walmart building has recently been sold. This sale also includes the grassy area next to McDonald’s.

Boyette said properties have been sold to White Reach Development LLC of Lexington, Ky.

“What they are going to do with it, we don’t know,” said Boyette. “They have made it clear they fully intend to develop the property.”

Boyette added that White Reach is a “very aggressive company” that has contacts with a lot of retailers in the United States.

Started in 1997, White Reach Development develops commercial real estate properties in the United States. “It offers build to suit development services ranging from site selection and site acquisition to development and construction process; funds and management services for tenant clients for processing of site acquisition through construction and sale/leaseback ownership to develop their own properties; develops joint ventures with property owners and developers to provide access to resources; and presale agreements with buyers to help them to secure financing,” according to information from Bloomberg.com.

Both Bush and Boyette said this company will talk with local officials and find out what new businesses could be brought to this property.

The McDowell News contacted Delbert Renfroe, a representative of White Reach Development, about his company’s plans for the old Walmart building and surrounding property.

"We plan on pursuing a number of users we feel would bring something to the center and the city of Marion," said Refroe in an email. "One aspect of our plan does include developing the lot next to McDonald's. When Walmart first came into the center, they left the area next to McDonald's vacant in order to accommodate more parking in the event of an expansion. For us, having that parcel readily available was a bonus."

Renfroe said he and his company have been working closely with Boyette "who has been very accommodating and helpful."

"We would like to continue working with the city as much as possible to make sure the project can benefit everyone involved," he said. "As far as the area, we love the Marion/McDowell county market. Actually my aunt and cousins live in Old Fort so I have been coming to the area since I was a kid."

Two years ago, plans were announced for a new movie theater for Marion that would have at least six “state-of-the-art” screens combined with a family entertainment center featuring bowling, an arcade and an eatery. The movie theater and entertainment center would be located next to Big Lots in the empty portion of the old Walmart building, according to the developer hired by the city at that time.

Since then, the much-anticipated theater has still not become reality and many local residents have wondered whether or not it ever will happen.

Commission Chairman David Walker said Tuesday he and other county leaders hear about the movie theater all the time.

In addition, the rest of the shopping center, which has Food Lion and Peebles, has been sold to Samco Properties of Deerfield Beach, Fla. This sale also includes Fatz Café but does not include the McDonald’s and Wendy’s fast-food restaurants, said Boyette.

Great Meadows Corp. of Spruce Pine was the original owner. The sale took effect last month.

Founded in 1982, Samco Properties is a commercial real estate company that “specializes in the ownership, operation, acquisition and improvement of neighborhood and community shopping centers, office buildings and single tenant commercial properties,” according to its Website.

“Through its affiliated companies, Samco Properties owns and operates approximately three million square feet of commercial real estate,” reads the Website.

Samco Properties owns properties in 14 states and has three already in North Carolina. In Asheville, Samco owns the Forest Ridge shopping center on Hendersonville Road, which has a Walmart Supercenter. Samco owns the Marketplace Mall in Winston-Salem and the Durham Westgate Plaza in Durham.

Sam Spiegel, president and co-founder of Samco, told The McDowell News that his company will seek to find new tenants for two small vacant buildings in the shopping center.

“We’re working with the previous leasing agent to market the spaces,” he said.

In addition, Spiegel said his company plans to develop the vacant grassy space right beside Peebles. Samco also intends to repaint the buildings, revamp the parking lot and install LED lights and better landscaping.

“We want to upgrade the center,” said Spiegel. “Our commitment is long term.”