The City of Manteca gets a bad rap regarding the empty space at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.
A number of residents based on social media and even comments to council members somehow blame elected leaders for the fact the envisioned 747,846-square-foot lifestyle center that has only roughly two thirds that space built has never come close to filling its in-line store space, has at least six restaurant pads bare, and has yet to build on a second medium box pad or a site across from the Hampton Inn.
To put it politely, the problem seems to be that of owners who — through their representatives over the years — appear not to be too interested in leasing space based on comments made by a half a dozen or so business owners over the years trying to lease space who had a difficult time even getting calls back.
Orchard Valley is owned by Poag Shopping Centers, the successor to Poag & McEwen after Terry McEwen retired. The first phase opened in 2008 with great fanfare as Bass Pro Shops attracted in excess of 70,000 people during its four-day grand opening.
The only store to fall victim to the recession — Best Buy that has since been replaced by the Fitness Evolution health club — was posting good numbers. The problem was Best Buy was dealing with a double whammy. Besides a slowdown in consumer spending, electronics were the first target of Amazon and other online retailers. They needed to pare back brick and mortar costs to restructure. Given the Manteca store was within 15 to 18 miles of three other Best Buys in Modesto, Stockton, and Tracy it could be closed without losing customer base.
To be clear despite the 35-year sales tax sharing deal that is working well for Manteca in terms of flowing money into the general fund it would never of had a chance to obtain, the center is — and always has been — a private concern.
If the lack of hustle seems to be keeping Orchard Valley from reaching its potential, that’s Poag Shopping Center’s decision and not the city’s.
Orchard Valley isn’t floundering. Look at the business Bass Pro Shops, AMC Theaters, JC Penney, the Hampton Inn, and smaller concerns such as Red Robin are enjoying.
There could be a lot of reasons for this. There are 19 lifestyle centers they own that may get more of their attention. Perhaps they needed a tax write-off that the empty space built with borrowed money represents. Who knows? The point is Orchard Valley isn’t in trouble and the city can’t be blamed for private sector decisions.
The city is as antsy as most people are who blog about Orchard Valley not living up to its potential. Ask Councilwoman Debby Moorhead. She’s among elected officials who have tried to promote the center at various endeavors only to find out stores they get interested in considering Manteca say they have gotten nowhere when making contacts about the center.
How antsy the city is was demonstrated last January when their big announcement during the inaugural State of the City gathering was that Poag & McEwen was putting Orchard Valley up for sale.
Over the years, Poag & McEwen has tried to jumpstart things. They pushed for city approval of a high-tech digital billboard they said was critical for their efforts to land certain tenants. They got the approval. The owners partnered with an outlet mall firm to fill the in-line space. That fizzled.
The latest move was to seek city approval for a second hotel across from the Hampton Inn where the 2008 plans envisioned a health club.
Poag Shopping Centers appears to be trying. In fairness, part of the problem is reading the market. Manteca is at the center of a region that is enjoying solid growth and will for years due to it being a key affordable housing solution for the job-rich Bay Area. So despite inroads online commerce is making, brick and mortar retail is still viable. The problem is the trend is away from enclosed malls and large groupings of smaller stores as a shopping destination. Firms that are still opening stores are doing so as free-standing concerns such as the 125,000-square-foot furniture store that is on its way to Manteca and Petco now under construction at the Stadium Retail Center. They are also gravitating to smaller centers designed with urban trappings in suburbia. The trend that is picking up steam nationally is for multi-use development with smaller centers at the heart of a cluster of housing such as townhouses and apartments.
They are proving wildly popular with people who want an affordable place to live — which typically means the suburbs like Manteca— where they can walk to restaurants, the gym, and shops after they get home from work and not have to get back behind the wheel.
There has been a mild buzz that Poag Shopping Centers is thinking of deploying such a strategy at Orchard Valley. If they do, rest assured the city will likely be more than willing to change the game plan given how Manteca is well situated to snag retail that is investing in brick and mortar at other locations along the 120 Bypass.
Converting a chunk of the 1,300 plus parking spaces into townhouses, condos, or apartments could be the catalyst needed to fill the in-line space.
After all, the entire premise behind the lifestyle design was to replicate the feeling of an old-fashioned Main Street. And what better way to do that than put housing as part of the mix of the 21st century downtown where everything is planned and built holistically.