Walla Walla Town Center, in progress

As progress continues on the Walla Walla Town Center, developers say they hope to see the first stores opening in the spring.

If you’re going to kick off a retail redevelopment a decade in the making, a sporting goods store seems as good a place as any to start.

The most anticipated revitalization of 2018 is expected this spring with the opening of Sportman’s Warehouse.

The Midvale, Utah,-based retailer is expected to be the first major tenant to open at Walla Walla Town Center, according to a representative with developer Zelman Development Co.

After that, other tenants will slowly follow with a cluster to come in August, said co-developer Alan Gottlieb.

In their most optimistic projections, a couple of retailers have said they want to open as early as April. But Gottlieb believes May is a more realistic timeline, particularly considering winter’s unpredictable weather and that access to asphalt pouring likely won’t be available until April.

If he’s wrong, it would be that much better for the community. Ulta Cosmetics, for instance, has already started accepting online applications for positions.

But what’s another month in a revitalization that first started 10 years ago with a number of stops, starts, ownership changes and, finally, the return of a national retail presence?

When that first phase opens, Gottlieb said the list of tenants will also include Hobby Lobby, Marshall’s, Ross, Famous Footwear, PetsMart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Rumors circulating on social media that potential food tenants could include Sonic Drive-In and MOD Pizza could not be officially confirmed by Gottlieb. Nor were they denied. Gottlieb said developers would not announce any tenants until leases are signed, so as not to jeopardize negotiations.

City Manager Nabiel Shawa also declined to confirm. He said developers through the course of the project have interacted with dozens of potential tenants, and not all are destined to work out. Projecting the identities before leases are set raises expectations that ultimately may crumble if terms can’t be reached.

“I don’t like to put that out there because all it does is create disappointment if it doesn’t work out,” Shawa said.

“Needless to say, we’re absolutely delighted that the (Town Center) is going to be open in 2018.”

Shawa said the debut of a slew of national tenants is good for the job market, taxable retail sales and Walla Walla’s quality of life.

“Our citizens have been making it clear to us in the annual surveys we put out year after year that they want more shopping,” Shawa said. “It’s the one place we are consistently dead last.”

Shawa said the city projects sales tax revenue of anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000 a year when the shopping center goes live. The projection varies so widely because no one really knows how much outshopping will be curbed from the Tri-Cities and whether Walla Walla will be able to capture some of the shopping from the rural Oregon markets that may also seek it out in the Tri-Cities.

For his part, Gottlieb said he believes Town Center is one facet of much greater development coming to the community in the next couple of years.

Between that, two luxury hotels slated for downtown and more restaurants in the works, Walla Walla is poised to be taken more seriously by other businesses, as well.

“I just think there’s going to be additional retailers, providing the goods and services everybody has been starving for so long,” he said. “This is the resurgence.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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