EAST WENATCHEE — A certain long-awaited Italian restaurant could be weeks away from officially agreeing to open in Wenatchee Valley Mall.
Could it be the coveted Olive Garden?
No one’s ready to say for sure, but all signs are pointing to it.
“It’s a national restaurant with an Italian menu,” says Keith Laird, executive vice president of Vintage Real Estate, a division of the Los Angeles company that owns the mall.
Laird, who handles leasing and property management at the mall, says he should be able to announce the arrival of the restaurant within about two weeks.
He declined to identify the restaurant until a lease is signed.
“We’re literally down to our final lease comments with them,” he said. “The restaurant would like to open in Spring 2010.”
The restaurant would be built in the mall parking lot, he said. Big tenants Macy’s and Sears have to first approve the deal.
“They both recognize the appeal of having a national chain restaurant on the property,” he said.
Laird doesn’t expect the recession to slow this deal further, but he says it has had an impact on other prospective tenants who have put their Wenatchee-area plans on hold until the economy improves.
A recent walk-through of the mall revealed seven vacancies — about the same percentage of space available when Vintage bought the mall in December 2007.
“We’re obviously not happy with where we are today,” he said of the vacancy. “We’ve got 10,000 square feet of deals that are tenant-approved. The problem is — and it’s not a Wenatchee issue, it’s a U.S. economic issue — they’ve put their plans on hold.”
Laird said the prospective tenants include national chains.
“Unless things really turn around in the next couple of months, the deals we thought would open this year will open in 2010,” he said.
But other plans will continue as scheduled.
Laird said company officials are waiting for final approvals to modernize the mall’s two main entrances, repaint the interior mall and install softer seating for those awaiting their shopping spouses or friends.
“The remodel and being able to announce the national chain restaurant are two pretty important things for us,” he said.
Last year, a teen-oriented clothing boutique Rue 21 arrived at the mall, filling the space vacated by Mariposa and the vacant space next to it.
Plans for a new movie theater are still under way, too, but are not quite as urgent, he said.
“We need to stabilize the vacancy in the mall first,” he said. “The theater would require more parking. We’re still working on that.”
East Wenatchee developer Dan Barr agrees that Vintage was off to a good start filling the mall, before the recession hit.
“I am a true believer in the existing ownership,” said Barr, who’s father developed Wenatchee Valley Mall. “From a capability standpoint, they’re doing the best they can do. All up and down the retail sector, there’s just not a lot of new blood coming in. Everyone’s just pulled back.”
He and his dad managed the mall until 2003, when Passco Real Estate of Irvine, Calif., bought the mall from Center Oak Properties of Portland.
Barr also handled leasing and redevelopment of Wenatchee’s Valley North Mall.
Vintage Capital Group bought the mall from Passco in December 2007 for $32.5 million, county records show.
The 340,000-square-foot mall contains anchor stores Macy’s; Sears; Ross Dress for Less; Bed, Bath and Beyond; and Food Pavilion. Restaurants outside the mall include Shari’s and Super China Star Buffet.