WW mall renovation to resume despite environmental concerns

Heather Nichols-Haining

The cities of Walla Walla and College Place disputed the renovation of the Blue Mountain Mall in Walla Walla.     The renovation of the mall was put on hold when College Place appealed the decision to construct the mall on environmental grounds.   The appeal was overturned and construction will resume immediately.

College Place City Administrator Pat Reay announced that the city “respectfully disagrees” with the decision to commence with the construction.

College Place and Verus, a company that will build a center neighboring the mall, argued that the mall will have negative effects on their property.   They were concerned about traffic congestion, light pollution and flooding storm waters.   The mall parking lot has flooded in the past, but the mall must now keep all flood water on-site.

“The concerns of College Place and Verus have been addressed and the environmental impacts will be controlled,” said Walla Walla Assistant Attorney Preston Fredrickson.

To minimize the negative impacts of the mall, traffic studies were conducted by the city, and the Department of Ecology must stay on-site to prevent storm water from flooding nearby College Place residents.

Many people think that the renovation of the mall, originally built in 1989, is long overdue.

“I absolutely detest driving to the Tri-Cities area to do shopping and would like to see a mall here once again that has something for everyone,” said a woman who identifies herself as “WW Mom” on a Web site that invites citizens to debate about current issues.

Currently, the mall is a skeletal clump of buildings, including Sears, ShopKo and Gottschalks.   Retailers such as Payless Shoes and Radio Shack vacated the mall when business became scarce, and now there is little remaining at the site.

The mall owners are still advertising space to retailers and the future stores have not been decided yet.   Rumors of Costco, Build-A-Bear Factory and Staples have interested Walla Walla citizens.

“I’m so happy to have a Costco.   I hate driving to Pasco every few weeks,” said citizen Elayne Martins.

Western Development Partners, LLC bought the mall nearly a year ago and permits have already been issued for the demolition of most of the mall.   The new mall will consist of two rows of shopping centers that will cross Poplar Street.   A permit for 120,000 square feet of retail space has been issued, and $9.3 million has been set aside for the foundation of the mall.

“The owner has to complete the purchase, and demolition should start within the month,” said Development Services Assistant Director Brian Walker.   Western expects to start redevelopment in July.

College Place is also working to expand its shopping options.   Verus is a developing company recently contracted by College Place to open a shopping center on Myra Road, not far from the construction site of the mall.