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West Broad Village Attracts a Suitor as Unicorp Sells its Stake in Development

Almost 1 million square feet of West Broad Village might soon have a new owner. Unicorp, the Florida developer that conceived the 115-acre project, is under contract to sell its remaining stake in the popular Short Pump area mixed-use development.

Unicorp President Chuck Whittall said the potential buyer is a “nationally known REIT.” He declined to name the REIT because the negotiations are ongoing.

“The contract has not gone — to use a developer term — hard yet,” Whittall said. “The buyer is still in an inspection period. We feel like they are extremely interested.”

The deal came to be after Unicorp put the 339-unit apartment piece of the development, known as the Flats at West Broad Village, up for sale in December. The apartments are listed with ARA, a Washington real estate broker.

A buyer initially interested in the apartments began to consider making a buy for Unicorp’s entire stake, which consists of about 400,000 of retail space and 600,000 of apartments and other space.

“It was always our intention for this to not necessarily be a long-term hold for us,” Whittall said. “And one of the buyers we were talking to was interested in the whole project.”

In addition to the apartments, Unicorp owns almost all the retail and office space in development. It also owns the land and buildings that house Whole Foods, REI, the other large retailers and restaurant out-parcels in the complex, Whittall said.

The massive townhouse residential piece of West Broad Village is controlled by Markel | Eagle Partners, a local private equity fund that invested in the project in 2009, when it was on the brink of collapse. Markel | Eagle and Orlando-based LeCesse Development own a small stake in the Flats apartments.

NAI Eagle, which along with the private equity fund are part of the Eagle Companies, markets and manages the retail and restaurant space for Unicorp.

Meanwhile, Eagle Construction has broken ground on the final residential phase of the development. The $15 million build-out of 100 townhouses will take place over at least the next two years.

Unicorp does not own the property on which the 62,000-square-foot ACAC fitness facility is being built. ACAC purchased that piece.

Nor does Unicorp own the 135-room Aloft Hotel. The hotel’s owner is in the midst of a legal dispute with a local bank over a $19 million loan.

Despite its past problems, the potential sale and interest from buyers in West Broad Village as a whole gives Whittall confidence that the initial vision was sound.

“We’ve always had confidence in the project,” Whittall said. “The day I bought it, I thought it was a good piece of real estate. The day I sell it, I will believe the same thing.”

There is no set timeline for when a closing might occur, Whittall said.

Whittall said he would prefer that Unicorp’s stake in the development end up in the hands of a single owner, rather than being sold off piecemeal.

“We consider our projects to be works of art, and we would like to see it in great hands,” he said. “We would like to see our vision carried forward.”