By Robin Wojtanik
For the first time in two decades, all but one storefront is occupied at Kennewick’s Marineland Plaza.
Following a major remodel of the façade, every spot on the West Clearwater Avenue side of the shopping center is booked, and just one space remains available for lease on the North Edison Street side — the area where The Bookworm used to be.
“It’s a good surprise to be almost full,” said Jason Goffard, a commercial real estate broker with NAI Tri-Cities. “There are very few business plazas around town that are 100 percent.”
He’s been the broker for the retail space, once called Marineland Village, through its prior ownership and bank possession, handling all leases and renewals for the spaces there.
Marineland is now owned by a local group of investors, with Manuel Chavallo as the majority managing member. Chavallo’s team, Clearwater Professional Suites LLC, invested $700,000 for the façade remodel.
The property opened in 1987 and had not been remodeled since.
The dolphin statues and swan signs were removed and replaced with modern awnings and a copper roof.
The renovated rooflines include the addition of peaks and rock-front pillars at some entrances.
“We wanted to bring the structure into a more contemporary look,” Chavallo said.
The recent improvements have brought added interest from new tenants like Black Wool, a trendy clothing store, Fresh Out the Box, a new restaurant from the owners of a food truck bearing the same name, and Garage Solutions, a retail showroom for a garage organization business.
They’re among the half-dozen new tenants who have leased space in Marineland Plaza in the last year. Having a more appealing property has made it easier for Goffard to fill the plaza.
“It was run down before. It wasn’t enticing. There wasn’t a lot of interest until the remodel was done,” he said.
It’s also an exciting time for longtime tenants.
The remodel has fallen in line with improvements at Linda Pasco’s store, Lemon Grass Gifts, which has been in the same corner spot for 18 years.
She watched with enthusiasm as a new sign was installed above her storefront. Pasco said it took a handful of sketches to get it just right because, like her store, she wanted the sign to have “a touch of whimsy.”
“It feels like home every time we come in the store. It smells so nice and it feels like home,” she said.
In addition to the new marquee, Pasco was thrilled to get double doors at her store entrance. It’s a modification she’s seen as a necessity for a while. “People would just walk right by our door and not realize we were there,” she said.
Pasco said the new Marineland owners met with tenants before and during construction and showed them the architect’s plans. This was key in allowing her to negotiate for the double door she desired at her store’s entrance.
The goal of the Marineland Plaza facelift was to make the space look grander and larger. The investors also wanted to solve a chronic pigeon problem tied to the dated awnings.
The property’s new investors were attracted to the property for its prime location in central Kennewick. “It was a nice asset that needed a little bit of improvement,” Chavallo said.
At the time of the purchase, the city of Kennewick was in the process of making improvements to North Edison Street. Chavallo said those modifications have made a huge impact to improve access to the shopping center from Highway 240.
The remodeling work wasn’t without its challenges — especially this past winter.
Pasco and other tenants struggled to attract customers during the lengthy construction.
The harsh winter put the project’s timeline two months behind schedule, pushing into the critical fourth quarter when retailers rely on holiday shopping to make up for any slow sales occurring elsewhere in the year.
Goffard said he was sympathetic about the delays. “Who’s coming out when there’s snow on the ground and scaffolding around your business? Our hearts go out to the tenants who struggled,” he said.
To everyone’s relief, no retailers or restaurants went out of business during the six-month remodel.
“Our customers have been such a blessing, they’re so faithful,” Pasco said.
“We all prayed very hard,” said Jessica VanDine, manager of the Village Bistro. “The remodel was a scare for a lot of places. We pulled together as a tight-knit work family. We buckled down and we all communicated.”
Known as the Village Deli and Café for 28 years, the Village Bistro re-opened last year with a new name and a new menu after the former owners retired and sold the restaurant.
VanDine said the new owners, Ryan and Kara Vogt, have increased the quality of the meats and breads and now serve dinner on the weekends, specializing in a homemade Italian-based menu.
“Business is busier but there’s a lot more room for growth,” VanDine said. They hope the warm summer days will encourage people to enjoy happy hour on the patio, offering $6 burger specials on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
Marineland tenants root for each other’s success, Pasco said. “We shop in each other’s stores, we eat their food. We have a nice relationship with other owners,” she said.
The last available retail space at Marineland is where The Bookworm used to be before moving to North Columbia Center Boulevard in 2015.
The 2,600-square-foot spot could be used for retail, restaurant or office space and has the availability of outdoor seating in the front. It’s currently advertised at $11 a square foot, plus triple net, which covers a portion of the facility’s operating costs.
Pasco said she’s proud to be a part of the locally focused Marineland Plaza where “the owners are particular about keeping mom-and-pop stores.” Lemon Grass is a family affair, with Pasco’s daughter and niece working behind the counter and setting up displays in the quirky shop.
The store is on its third remodel, as Pasco has continued to take over neighboring retail space as it becomes available.
It began as an 850-square-foot retailer of fine bath and body products. “I’m a soap and lotion nut,” Pasco said. It’s now grown to 4,000 square feet, offering what’s described as “an eclectic array” of gifts, including clothing, jewelry, handbags, home décor, furniture and wall-hanging fountains.
Pasco has stayed true to her roots, proudly stating she provides the largest collection of mineral oil- and petroleum-free organic soaps in the Tri-Cities. She was inspired to own a store after her daughter became an entrepreneur.
Pasco had no other option but to travel to the Seattle-area to find the items she was after. “I thought, ‘Why do you have to drive to Bellevue to get a big, beautiful bar of soap?’” She decided to open her own shop and always made it a point to carry the soaps featured on Oprah Winfrey’s popular O List.
And as many other similar strip malls have lost tenants or gift stores have gone under, Pasco believes her store’s uniqueness has kept it going for nearly two decades.
“You have to be able to change with the times and with the trends. You have to try to be original,” she said.