U-B FILE PHOTO: Demolition of the Blue Mountain Mall in Walla Walla halted in its tracks. The mall was later sold at auction, but problems remain.
Photo by Jeff Horner.
WALLA WALLA — A new retail development may finally be in store for the city’s long-embattled former Blue Mountain Mall property.
City Manager Nabiel Shawa said Tuesday a Los Angeles-based redevelopment firm plans to buy the property and begin the renovation process.
About the potential buyer
Zelman Development Co. is a privately owned commercial real estate development company headquartered in Los Angeles. Founded in the early 1960s the company specialized in industrial property development in and around the greater Los Angeles area, according to its website at zelman.com. Through the years it has expanded to include suburban office, airport parking facilities, and large format “power” retail shopping centers.
Zelman specializes in developing properties requiring extensive rezoning or new entitlement. It said its completion of complex entitlements and Environmental Impact Reports has helped create a reputation for working well with local businesses and city officials in designing and completing projects complimentary to the surrounding environment.
The company has formed longstanding tenant relationships with industry leaders such as Target, Best Buy, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Home Depot, Linen’s N Things and Kohl’s.
Financial terms of the acquisition weren’t immediately available.
Shawa said the ownership change is set to close Aug. 12.
Though the property’s recent history has been marked by a series of foreclosures, partial demolition, bankruptcy filings and sale processes, Shawa was optimistic Tuesday the purchase by Zelman Development Co. is finally a step toward legitimate redevelopment of the once-thriving retail hub.
He said he’s received notification from the title company about the pending ownership change. He’s also met with representatives from the firm twice — once as recently as last week.
“We’re hopeful, but until it closes, the deal is not done,” Shawa said.
He said Zelman has revealed it already has some nationally known retailers on board for the property. Tenants could be set up in the former Sears and Gottschalks buildings as early as next spring.
Economic development officials, including Shawa, have said Walla Walla’s stagnant population growth is a major reason recruiting major retailers is such a challenge.
But Shawa also acknowledged Tuesday this remains a market underserved by certain types of retail.
In 2012, the city contracted with a Texas firm named Buxton Company to study analytics of Walla Walla consumer spending.
The results were taken that May to the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, where Shawa said he was first introduced to Zelman.
“We were examining the portion of the report that looks to leakage,” he said, referring to factors that prompt people to shop out of town. “Clothing. We’re short on electronics. There are a few other categories. The local retailers can’t meet the existing demand here today.”
He said a grand opening of the redeveloped property that borders Poplar Street, Rose Street and Myra Road could come August 2014.
“We’re hopeful,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed, and we’re trying to do everything we can do to help.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.