May 27--It will be another year before construction transforms the former Blue Mountain Mall into new retail destination Walla Walla Towne Center.
When it does, Walla Walla will be home to Hobby Lobby, Famous Footwear, Ulta, Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls, Ross, Rue 21 and Dick's Sporting Goods, Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa said Tuesday.
Shawa announced the list at a packed house of business representatives and community leaders gathered for the Port of Walla Walla's Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.
One addition not on a list leaked online in February is Dick's Sporting Goods. That and Bed Bath & Beyond are the final retailers still in lease negotiations with property owners, Zelman Walla Walla LLC, Shawa said.
The leases should be complete in the next 60 to 90 days. However, that would lead to a later-than-desired construction start for the owners, he said.
Hobby Lobby already filed for its construction permits in March. According to the permit application, the company wants to remodel 48,587 square feet of existing tenant space. That amount matches the size of the Sears store that closed three years ago.
Shawa said Zelman initially planned to resurrect the standing buildings, including the former Sears and Gottschalks properties, as the start to revitalization of the partially demolished retail property. But they've since changed course and want to develop the Poplar Street tenants, too.
Construction, he said, is expected to begin in spring 2016, with a fall opening.
A bulwark against outshopping
The development will build employment and broaden the shopping choices, in the process building the economy through taxable retail sales collection and a reduction in outshopping that sends local money to other regional communities, officials say.
According to the latest figures, taxable retail sales for Walla Walla County totaled $792 million. That's up from $737 million in 2013 and a high of $761 million in 2008.
Nevertheless, the loss of retail sales tax to other communities is growing, Port Economic Development Director Paul Gerola detailed in a report to the group.
In 2014, he said, Walla Walla County had $164 million in taxable retail sales leak out of the community.
A huge portion of that -- $55 million -- was in motor vehicle sales and parts.
"We're losing ground there," Gerola said.
Apparel and accessories accounted for about $27 million in outshopping.
Determining the figures is a matter of taking all taxable retail sales for the area and dividing by the population to calculate an average, Gerola said.
The same happens at a state level.
Per capita capture or loss is the difference between the state average spending per capita and the average in the local area.
The total taxable retail sales capture or loss takes the per capita sales tax capture or loss multiplied by the population.
Gerola said some areas -- such as buying goods online -- will likely never
But areas such as apparel and accessories could be boosted by more selection in the community, Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz added.
"The concerning thing with these numbers is we're headed in the wrong trend. We're continuing to have our money leave this county," Kuntz said.
"I just hope we can stop the bleeding and move in a better direction, but right now it's a lot of money leaving the community."
He said local officials are not taking it sitting down.
Springboard for more retail
Earlier this month a contingency of elected and appointed officials attended the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show in Las Vegas. The event draws about 65,000 attendees, said Walla Walla County Commissioner Jim Johnson, who was joined on the Port-organized trip by Port Commissioner Peter Swant, College Place City Administrator Pat Reay, and Shawa.
Johnson said the event draws contractors, developers and every chain restaurant and retailer imaginable. He said the community's continued participation in the trade show is making Walla Walla a more familiar name, though some continue to have an incorrect impression of how the region is composed.
Where some see a remote community, Johnson pointed out that the area has been designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization. Proximity to other communities immediately bumps up the population numbers from which it draws, he explained.
"It paints a different picture," Johnson said.
Reay, who has attended the trade show for a dozen or so years, said the great obstacle is overcoming that remoteness. Most major retailers won't entertain a move into a community if it doesn't draw from at least 75,000 people.
With Walla Walla itself growing at less than five-tenths of 1 percent per year, Kuntz said, the lack of population growth doesn't look good to retailers. It's important to communicate if, for instance, you're selling the Burbank commercial land, as the Port is, that it can draw from nearby Pasco or Kennewick.
Reay said the Towne Center redevelopment could serve as a needed springboard for more retail down the road.
"Once that mall takes hold I think you're going to see a lot more interest," he said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.
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