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Cornelius News

Developreneur Jake Palillo speaks his mind

Jake Palillo

Jan. 12. By Dave Yochum. This entrepreneur was chauffeured to work at the company he owned because he was too young to drive.

Jake Palillo was 15 when he quit high school and opened Arbor Valley Landscaping in Niagara Falls, NY. He moved out of his parents’ house at 16.

“School wasn’t my thing,” he says now.

His dad was president of the Niagara Falls Fire Fighters Association and the mayor for four years starting Jan. 1, 1992. By the time Jake was 22 he was married, a serial entrepreneur, and a builder of businesses that included snow plowing, limousines and pizza stores.

He built the pizza business to five stores, and ran them for 15 years before selling them to employees. He also had nightclubs in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but nightclubs run hot and cold.

“They are hot when you’re hot. You got lines wrapped around the door…and when you’re not, you’re not. They’re successful for three, five years and then someone else opens up,” he says.

He even started a food processing business that made pizza sticks.

“We got slaughtered doing that,” Palillo says. “It was like a vacuum just sucking money.”

Two decades later, Palillo is still building and still bluntly assessing where he’s at. “I’ve made millions and lost millions,” the 59-year-old says. He and his wife Geri moved here in 1998.

Controversial development

Now a successful real estate developer and business owner—he is basically the last man standing among the original developers of Bailey’s Glen—Palillo has projects all across the Lake Norman area, including plans for a mixed-use development with commercial space and 252 apartment units on West Catawba Avenue to the east of Junker Drive.

Cameryn Elise is the name of the proposed luxury apartment project on West Catawba

At a December Zoom meeting to discuss the project with planners and neighbors, he said the area “looks like a junk yard and really needs some work.”

He said market research showed a need for apartments which would rent out for between $1,600 and $2,000 a month. He went on to say local retail is dead, with major stores under-performing their peers.

Needless to say, all heck broke loose in the Zoom meeting with angry residents becoming more angry and Palillo digging in.

He said residents opposed to his proposal were “crazy Facebook fans.”

But former Town Commissioner Kurt Naas said, “frankly, this is the wrong time and the wrong type of project for this town.”

Then Town Clerk Lori Harrell read 20 minutes of emails from residents, all in opposition. In addition, a petition opposing Palillo’s plan—containing 333 signatures—was submitted to the town board.

“If I’m passionate about something I’m like a bull in a china shop…I don’t have a lot of patience for nonsense and stupidity,” Palillo said.

“I’m not a highly educated person, it’s just common sense,” he said.

This reporter asked Palillo why he called this area a junk yard.

“It is,” Palillo answered.

“I didn’t say anything behind anyone’s back. I say exactly what I feel,” he added.

There will be more public hearings as well as a review by the Architectural Review Board. It could take months for this process to play out.

If not a junk yard, what?

At least two Cornelius elected officials privately agreed with Palillo’s comments about that part of West Catawba.

“At least have enough respect for the community,” Palillo said of landowners and tenants on West Catawba who don’t present an attractive street view. “We’re not a junk yard, landscape it up a little bit…everywhere you look, the whole corridor is just junk.”

Gesturing to luxury residential neighborhoods nearby, he said, “how can you have all this and Goodwill is your largest retailer?”

The answer is rooftops, another word for the residents who would support a vibrant retail scene.

“You don’t have the people to support retail. A business district has to have a combination of multi-family nearby to make it work,” Palillo said, explaining that he is a developer-owner. The disputed project would be retained in his portfolio and would reflect his pride of ownership, he said.

“If you don’t create more activity on Catawba you will lose all those restaurants,” he said.

Apartment projects are more likely to find bank financing than the average condo project, he said, in part, because of the disputes that befall condominium ownership. He said many condo projects up and down West Catawba are aging, with disagreement around how to update them.

Traffic: Open to debate?

The traffic people complain about on West Catawba is really not that bad, Palillo said, while agreeing that more rooftops means more residents and more traffic.

“Traffic is a way of life. Get used to it. You came to one of the fastest-growing parts of the country and you think that Cornelius is going be be rural?” Palillo shrugged. “I came here because Charlotte was booming,” he said.

Indeed, he has more projects under way, including ongoing tweaks to Bailey’s Glen where residents we interviewed said they were pleased with the active adult community and Palillo’s overall management.

Residents we spoke to said Palillo has included extras and accommodated subsequent requests that were not contractually required.

Pride of ownership

Palillo has a 62-unit senior apartment project under way in Birkdale Village near Fifth Third as well as another project on Stumptown Road in Huntersville opposite St. Mark Catholic Church.

He will be the owner-developer and hold the property.

“If I’m passionate about something I’m like a bull in a china shop… I don’t have a lot of patience for nonsense and stupidity.”

–Jake Palillo

Symphony Park is a new senior apartment project on NC. 73 west of Hwy. 115. It will have 320 units for rent, as well as restaurants and other amenities.

The project, valued at $80 million, is backed by an investment group out of Orlando. Palillo said groundbreaking will happen in May with completion 22 months later.

Palillo, who has built more than a dozen homes in The Peninsula including his own and his mother’s is also the owner of a successful trucking company called South Creek. He has 85 trucks, including 45 dump trucks and 40 tractor trailers. Between the trucking company and South Creek Construction, he employs 165 people.

Busman’s holiday

Development is his passion. He and his wife of 37 years like to travel to nice places, only Jake isn’t the best company.

“They go to the beach and I like to drive around and look at projects. You come up with ideas, you don’t invent them but you see these things. I try to encourage planning departments to get out and travel and bring creative ideas back,” Palillo said.

“I don’t golf. I don’t boat,” he said.

He praised Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Wayne Herron, formerly the town’s planning director. Huntersville is much improved, he said, with the departure of former Mayor Jill Swain, with whom he had a very public war, with Palillo spending thousands of dollars on ads opposing her re-election.

The Huntersville planning department has turned over since then and Mayor John Aneralla finishes up his second term this year.

Palillo said he wants to do “good projects” whether they’re in Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius or Huntersville.

“You want to add value to a community. You get to a certain point in life, you create a property and it’s there forever. Bailey’s Glen, for example, you go there and you make money but the bigger reward is to see the quality of life that you have created,” he said.

“They’re in the best years of their lives and they’re walking their dog, playing pickleball. I get a lot of satisfaction to see stuff like that.”

Discussion

One Response to “Developreneur Jake Palillo speaks his mind”

  1. Excellent story, great perspective from both sides. He’s right that retail and restaurants must have rooftops nearby to stay in business.

    Posted by zachary moretz | January 13, 2021, 10:03 am

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