The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, as some contend, is not a failing shopping complex.
Even after a San Jose store opens in the next few years, Bass Pro Shops promises to continue as a retail juggernaut for Orchard Valley as well as for municipal sales tax receipts.
To be sure, Orchard Valley got caught in The Great Recession. The last nail in Bass Pro was driven just as the housing crash started in 2006.
What ails the complex with its ample vacant in-line stores, empty Best Buy space, and restaurant pads yet to be built is the equivalent of someone stopping a sex change operation at the mid-point. Orchard Valley started as a lifestyle center and mid-way through the recession developers changed direction and tried to make it into an outlet center to adjust to a rapidly changing retail world. What you now have is neither beast nor fowl.
Best Buy closed not because Orchard Valley was a failure or the marketplace wasn’t supportive enough but due to changing reality. Best Buy has had to reconfigure itself to survive in an onslaught of electronic sales on the Internet. Too many customers were using their stores as showrooms and then buying on the Internet. To chart a new course, Best Buy had to shed expenses. They took some underperforming stores and closed them. But they also shuttered stores that they perceived as marketplace overlap. Manteca’s blessing in this case turned out to be a curse. Manteca is smack dab in the middle of a consumer market of 1.1 million people within 18 miles. Stockton, Modesto and Tracy all had established Best Buy stores. Pulling the plug on Manteca was an obvious move for a company that had to slash ongoing brick and mortar costs, even if they were locations that were making sales quotas.
Best Buy believes the answer is a leaner, meaner more service orientated retail experience. Almost all of their stores are too big for their new strategy. Best Buy isn’t the only small box or medium box retailer taking that view.
Meanwhile, Orchard Valley’s outlet strategy is sputtering somewhat. There is interest given the Modesto-Stockton-Tracy market coupled with Bass Pro’s 2.5 million annual draw. But retailers that go into outlets are used to layouts that either open up to parking lots or else give the rear of their stores ample space for signage to passing motorists.
Poag & McEwen, the City of Manteca, the Manteca Visitors Center, and Yosemite National Park officials are working to put together a staging point for visitors to the national park as well as a Yosemite Visitors Center. That said Manteca’s growth as a regional visitors and tourist destination will help the outlet model as well as fill the vacant restaurant pads.
What isn’t clear is what will happen to the vacant Best Buy space.
Some thinking out of the box could change that vacancy from a potential albatross into an unconventional draw for Orchard Valley much like Bass Pro and the proposed Yosemite Visitors Center. That’s where a suggestion by Manteca businessman and artist Randy Pearsall comes into play.
His idea is to for the city to take the lead and turn the Best Buy space into a regional performing arts center. It dovetails into the hybrid retail approach plus re-enforces the original Poag & McEwen concept to give Orchard Valley a Main Street feel.
It wouldn’t duplicate anything in the envisioned family entertainment zone envisioned next to the proposed Great Wolf resort with its 400 room hotel, 75,000-square-foot indoor water park and conference center. It would actually enhance the two regional entertainment concept driven projects and the Big League Dreams sports complex.
How could the city possibly finance such an endeavor especially with what redevelopment agency funds they have left over are restricted by state law to what they can be used?
Poag & McEwen is in the retail shopping center business. They could horse trade the store’s shell for the city-owned land along Daniels Street sandwiched between the Stadium Retail Center, Big League Dreams, and Airport Way.
At the same time, Poag & McEwen could transform a small portion of the Best Buy building for a Manteca/Yosemite Visitors Center complete with restrooms large enough to accommodate tour buses, performing arts crowds and for public use by Orchard Valley visitors in general.
It would avoid having to convert existing in-line store space for restrooms as well as make the current visitors’ center space available for Poag & McEwen to lease to a retailer. It also would provide the city with on-site management staff through the Visitors Center.
Interior remodeling needed to make the space work as a performing arts center — raised seating, acoustics, lowered ceiling, stage and such — could be funded using future bonus bucks now being offered by Atherton Homes and others.
Ongoing funding to pay for costs not covered by admission could be paid possibly in part by a small portion of the $4 million to $6 million that the city anticipates Great Wolf will bring into municipal coffers through room taxes each year.
Manteca has done a Herculean job with the physical side of recreation with nearly 60 municipal parks including a top notch sports complex, a well received golf course as well as an expanding system of separated bicycle trails. Now it needs to make the same effort on the cultural side of the recreation equation.
The Best Buy site might just be the best bet to accomplish such a goal.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 249-3519.