North Side Visalia Gets New Retail Center

IMG_0106The Visalia City Council approved Riverbend Village, a development on the southeast corner of Dinuba Boulevard and Riggin Avenue. Initially zoned residential, the council voted to rezone the 9.88 acres as commercial on September 3.
Riverbend Village is located directly south of the new Target in Orchard Walk and will include a Wendy’s and an Arco station with an AM/PM market and car wash. More retailers and an anchor store will soon come to north Visalia now that the corner is zoned commercial.

Shane Anderson, of Commercial Retail Associates, said, “The city council has been begging for development on the north side. Now that the market is picking up, residential and commercial is in demand.”

Scott Patterson, of California Gold Development Corporation, described the land under consideration for rezoning as a “hard corner” in which the best and highest use would be commercial. Dinuba Boulevard is a major north-south artery for Visalia, and Riggin Avenue is a straight shot to highway 99. The growing population, traffic count and location are exactly what retailers and developers are looking for.

The design of Riverbend Village will have an old heritage feel that will compliment Orchard Walk. The retail selection will also compliment their neighbor because Target Stores have a restriction on gas stations. Local residents will appreciate having an Arco and another eatery besides McDonald’s across the street. Patterson explained that shoppers like to have choices and a full complement of services. Riverbend Village does not see Orchard Walk as competition but rather, with two high-quality developments on each corner, as a partner in attracting more shoppers. “Business attracts more business,” said Patterson.

Riverbend Village had a rocky road to travel before its zoning was changed from residential to commercial. In April, the development had been approved by the planning commission three votes to two, but that decision was appealed by developer Donahue Schriber of Orchard Walk. Schriber’s concern was that the initial design was insufficient and needed enhancements to better blend with his retail center. Riverbend Village made the needed improvements and returned to the planning commission, but its original supporters were absent and Riverbend did not gain approval. Developer

Tom Hughes decided to take the issue straight to the city council, where his team received compliments on its updated design. He succeeded in getting the property zoned commercial.

Council Member Greg Collins was pleased with the improvements made to Riverbend’s design, but outlined the pitfalls of having four hard corners zoned commercial. Ever vigilant of Visalia not becoming the next Fresno, he pointed out that, “When driving in Fresno, and coming upon four commercial corners, you always get your winners and losers.

Some corners will have successful anchors and vibrant retail while one corner always has a high vacancy rate, payday loans and massage parlors.”

Two corners on Dinuba and Riggin are already zoned commercial and Collins wanted Anderson to address his concerns. Council Member Steve Nelsen also worried about having Riverbend Village put in sidewalks, infrastructure, “a nice Wendy’s” and a gas station, then the rest being just dirt.

Anderson said it will take time but, “activity brings activity and more businesses will want to locate there.” He added that the Hughes family owns the southeast corner and that they may decide to keep it strictly residential.

Mayor Amy Shuklian stated that Orchard Walk West was empty and that smaller retailers are not going to be interested in buying pads until they secure an anchor. Home Base was scheduled to build there in 2008 but pulled out just weeks before breaking ground because of the economy. A housing consultant described Orchard Walk West as a victim of bad timing. Once the residential market slowed down, commercial development had no choice but to pull back. Without the economic downturn, that corner would have been fully built out by now. The north side is a growing part of Visalia and the city council is pushing the area. Big block stores are starting to show interest.

Council Member Bob Link has always been a proponent of retail growth on Dinuba Boulevard. “It’s the Mooney Boulevard of north Visalia.” Link believes that in ten years Riggin and Dinuba will be like Walnut and Mooney. “I don’t believe more than 18 months will pass before something happens in Orchard Walk West.”

The final vote was four to one, with Collins dissenting. “Only so many boxes are coming to Visalia and if you open up too much property to commercial development you end up with a lot of vacant land.” Collins had no issue with the design. He felt the developer brought their “A” game, but was concerned about what will happen to the northwest corner of Dinuba and Riggin when the northeast corner starts to develop. “If you have all hard corners where is the balance?” he said.

Bridgecort Homes LP owns the project, which is being developed by Hughes Homes. Tom Hughes is the developer and has been in the home construction business for 20 years. This is his first foray into commercial development.

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