Walk2Campus Buys Buffalo Shook & W. C. Newman Co.

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

FARMVILLE — Walk2Campus has purchased Buffalo Shook Co. and W. C. Newman Co. Inc., giving it a significant slice of Farmville real estate between West Third Street and the Appomattox River.

The two lots are about 4.5 acres each.

But there is also a 55-acre island in the Appomattox River, itself, that Walk2Campus has purchased from W. C. Newman Co. Inc., as well.

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Walk2Campus will begin work in August to transform the 30,000-square foot Southern States Farmers Cooperative building into 36 apartments targeted mostly at professionals.

Now Walk2Campus has acquired these two adjoining properties, plus the island.

While Matt King’s firm has very definite plans for the co-op building, the future of the Buffalo Shook and W. C. Newman properties will be taken slowly and surely to make sure what is done is done right and well.

Buffalo Shook will be demolished in two weeks, because of liability issues, but what rises in its place will not appear overnight.

And W. C. Newman Co. Inc. will lease the property it calls home until a new concrete manufacturing facility is built off US 460 at Hudson’s Bottom.

The two are iconic Farmville businesses, each having more than a century of entrepreneurship.

Buffalo Shook Co. closed in 2013 after 101 years of business. W. C. Newman’s website says it’s been in business for 104 years, the company also dealing in fuel oil and aggregates.

On Wednesday afternoon, King, along with W. C. Newman’s Robert Atkinson and Terri and Nelson Wilson, who owned Buffalo Shook, discussed the deals with The Herald.

Atkinson said that he knew from the day he purchased the company in 1991 that he would have to move the business some day.

To stay in business long-term, “sooner or later I needed to go somewhere else. One, it’s a small piece of land for a concrete plant,” he said.

Nor was there room to add on to the plant and he “couldn’t put in a new plant next to it at the same and take the old one down,” he reasoned.

So Atkinson approached Walk2Campus several years ago to plant the seed and see if they would be interested in buying the property someday. The answer was in the affirmative but Atkinson wasn’t ready to sell then. He is now.

And it was Atkinson who approached Terri and Nelson Wilson.

“The natural progression was, do you think Buffalo Shook would be interested,” he said. “I talked to Nelson and Terri and they were somewhat interested so we all kinda got into a conversation and this is where we ended up.”

Terri said she and Nelson had thought of “dreams of doing something else there but this just came in at the right time,” she said of the deal with Walk2Campus. And they like King’s dreams for Farmville’s future, even if those dreams, where this property is concerned, are still taking shape.

The future of both properties, King said, “is a work in progress, still in the planning phase.”

Nothing is going to happen overnight, he cautions.

But it will happen.

Redevelopment of the Farmers Co-op building made acquiring the two additional properties “even more interesting,” he said.

“If you look at an aerial view of Farmville and you look at downtown Farmville and you look at these nine acres on this side of the river and then you start to kind of wrap your head around how important these nine acres are to the future,” King said.

Farmville’s history flows with the Appomattox River and it will continue to do so, especially given the presence and success of High Bridge Trail State Park, which passes between the co-op building and the Buffalo Shook and W. C. Newman acreage.

“Seeing the river as this huge, scenic asset, and the opportunity associated with that, was extremely compelling,” King explained.

“I think this thing is 50 percent opportunity and 50 percent responsibility because we’ve invested historically in Farmville, and we’ll continue to,” he continued. “But I think if you believe in something then you really believe in it, right? And we’re all in.”

Walk2Campus has been a residential development company but this property acquisition has the company “thinking broader than that,” King said.

The Wilsons find Walk2Campus’ commitment to the proper development of the acreage they have sold resonates within them.

They are prepared to see Buffalo Shook demolished because it will give way to a future they both strongly believe in.

“We want to contribute something to the future,” Terri said, just as Buffalo Shook’s manufacturing history contributed so heavily and for so long in the past. “…We believe in the future of Farmville and we believe Walk2Campus is the right investor to make a difference. They’re going to be a positive influence on the community and not go backwards. They’re going to move us forward…And that makes us feel better about making the transition.”

King is sensitive to the approaching demolition of Buffalo Shook and, eventually, W. C. Newman. Redevelopment of the Farmers Co-op building will keep that historic structure standing in plain view, brought back to its original look, in fact.

“Folks will remember that. This is a little different. The buildings…are not readily convertible to residential apartments,” he said of Buffalo Shook. “There’s very little that we can do with them. And because of that it’s a little more difficult to create a lasting heritage…but we’re mindful of what it was and what it had been and that will be inclusive in what it will be.”

“So I think it’s important that, whatever happens, we don’t lose track of what it was. The same with Robert’s property,” King said.

Nelson waxes philosophical and points out that 150 years ago neither Buffalo Shook nor W. C. Newman were there and, of Walk2Campus’ plans for the future, he said, “y’all will do it right.”

As for the island, King said he was walking on it earlier in the day.

“You stand there and you look up river…that’s a pretty stretch,” he said.

“So many people don’t know it’s there,” adds Atkinson. “…It needs to be, for lack of a better word, exploited to a certain degree. It needs to be…”

“…Showcased,” Nelson said, finishing the thought.

“And it’s right there next to (High Bridge Trail),” King notes.

“And we’ve already seen what High Bridge Trail can do,” Terri adds. “Join that with river. It’s what Farmville needs for a boost. And for us to be a part of the past and a part of the future is really important to us. And that was something that we looked for, that made this deal go ahead and go forward.”

If people are concerned about Buffalo Shook “being leveled,” she said, “they’ve got to look to the future. And we are. And we’re okay. The co-op definitely has the features that need to be saved, and I’m all for restoring things. This is the right thing to do for this property…It’s what needs to be done for the future. Buffalo Shook has done a lot for Farmville in the past, but this is what it’s going to do for the future. And we’re glad to be a part of that.”

King cautions that what’s to come in that future “will take time” and he said “we’ve got to be mindful about what makes sense for everybody. And that’s not going to become apparent in 24 hours. The planning process for this thing, it’s going to take a little while. So, I want people to be excited but I also want folks to realize it’s not going to happen overnight.”

It would be pretty easy, King observed, “to get out over your skis and build something that the community’s not ready for. That’s what you don’t want. You don’t want a bunch of vacant storefronts. You don’t want a bunch of vacant restaurants, you name it.”

In Farmville, he said, “there’s this critical mass thing going on and it’s getting better, and we’re on the cusp, right? But it’s not quite here yet. We’re a little bit in front of the curve with this deal, but now’s when it was available.”