Both Eric Wilhelm, the CEO of Coregistics and a principal of Freedom Power Sports, and Dale Hughes, a real estate investor and co-founder of Jeremiah Consulting, have each lived in Kennesaw for more than 25 years.
Last month, they reached an agreement on a 2-acre corner lot off Main Street and J.O. Stephenson Avenue, one that will benefit The Center for Children & Young Adults, which serves multiple counties by providing a home for neglected and abandoned youth.
The deal between Wilhelm and Hughes will impact the center of the city along Main Street, formerly the location of The Whistle Stop Café and a car lot, next to Wildman’s Civil War Surplus.
In June 2009, Wilhelm and another partner bought the lot and adjacent building for $325,000, according to the Cobb County Tax Assessor’s office.
In October 2009, a fire severely damaged the building. The businesses closed and the space has been unoccupied and vacant ever since.
In April 2013, Hughes acquired a promissory note on the mortgage as part of a larger estate purchase that included multiple properties in the downtown Kennesaw area.
While neither businessmen wanted to reveal the details of the recent agreement, Hughes will acquire both the building and the adjacent lot on the corner from Wilhelm.
A Feb. 3 listing by the Cobb County Tax Assessors office posted the sale at the 2,100-square-foot building from the 1940s, which Hughes said would not remain at the site.
Although Hughes said he is still working on conceptual drawings for the corner property, it will not include residential elements — only restaurants, shops and a “Common Grounds Plaza.”
“I think this community is on the verge of greatness,” Hughes said. “There is an explosion of opportunity.”
Wilhelm said Hughes is a former business mogul making the right deal for the right reason.
“This story is a lot bigger than the property,” Wilhelm said.
Kennesaw’s recent developments
Wilhelm said he only bought the property and not the businesses back in 2009 because he had a vision for a mixed-use development, including a clock tower on top of a three-story building with a mountain view.
“I thought Kennesaw deserved something of value,” he said.
But Wilhelm said three things happened that collapsed the project — the fire, the recession and Kennesaw city politics.
A block down J. O. Stevenson Avenue from the previously disputed site sits Kennesaw’s City Hall.
Wilhelm said the city government benefits when business dealings over property are tied up in litigation. The delay allows elected officials to intercede on how land will be developed.
Wilhelm said he felt pressure from external forces. Hughes said his ears had been filled with a lot of negative comments about Wilhelm.
The duo spent hours over multiple meetings starting a dialogue, focusing on the end goal and staying positive.
“We just took a journey,” Hughes said about the men taking time before discussing the business at hand. “We refused to talk about this deal until we got to know each other.”
Hughes said he realized he did not want to be known as the man suing another Kennesaw businessman.
“We realized just how like-minded we were and forged a mutually agreeable plan,” Hughes said. “I hope this successful approach will serve as an example of how our community should work together to further economic development in Kennesaw.”
Councilwoman Cris Welsh said political dealings in Kennesaw can make the city a hard place for business owners to come together.
The role of local government is to provide infrastructure and security, Welsh said, and only sometimes package together large development deals.
“But you never want (the city) to be too far into it and micromanaging it,” she said.
Efforts to get the city government out of the way has allowed the private industry to dive into Kennesaw’s downtown, Welsh said, the results of which are seen by the many work crews along Main Street.
In fact, south of Watts Drive, metal chain-linked fencing encircles the large area where Atlanta-based developer South City Partners will build a $38 million mixed-use development with luxury apartments, retail space and a parking deck.
“This is going to become a vibrant downtown,” Hughes said. “In 20 to 30 years from now, we won’t even recognize it.”
A good deal for everyone
Although Hughes said he realized Wilhelm “needed to be made whole” by not losing out, the final buyout left a gap between how much each man was hoping to profit from the deal.
“So we both looked at each other and said let it go,” Hughes said about giving the $15,000 to the Marietta-based CCYA on Austell Road near County Services Parkway.
The CCYA operates the shelter with a goal to reunite children with family members or find them permanent placement.
Still, Kim Borna, CEO of CCYA, who lives in Woodstock and has been with the charity for four years, said another focus is teaching the teenagers who are about to age out of the program how to independently live. This pressing situation is the case for one-third of the kids cared for by CCYA.
“Each kid comes in with a different story and a different need,” Borna said about the parents who are developmentally delayed, incarcerated or on drugs. “We see a lot of meth in Cobb.”
Borna said 51 percent of the clients stay in the program more than 90 days and 10 percent stay more than a year or two. The at-risk shelter serves 150 to 200 youth annually.
The center has 39 beds spread through three buildings, but Borna hopes to expand that number to 50 in the next three years.
Wilhelm said the $15,000 in funds will be spent as Borna and the organization sees fit.
“We did have one stipulation: Do good,” Wilhelm said.
Borna said it is rare for the organization to be gifted unrestricted funds. The money will most likely go to electricity bills, winter clothes and shoes.
“You wouldn’t believe what our cereal bill is,” Borna said about housing dozens of teenage boys.
After successfully running a music therapy program, CCYA will be starting an art therapy program next month. There are also plans to add a teaching kitchen and a chicken coop on the property.