Valley North puckers up to welcome Ulta Beauty
WENATCHEE — Always looking good, Wenatchee could soon start looking even better.
Ulta Beauty, the fast-growing national chain of beauty products and salon services, will be moving into the soon-to-be-vacated Craft Warehouse space at Valley North Center in Wenatchee. Craft Warehouse will close around April 10.
The new 11,000-square-foot Ulta store — which will open sometime in the second half of this year — will sell cosmetics, fragrances, skin and hair care products and include a full-service salon. The Wenatchee Ulta will be the 23rd in the state after Union Gap (Yakima), Tri-Cities, Spokane and 19 in Puget Sound and the Interstate 5 corridor.
“Ulta Beauty is recognized for its personal service and fun, inviting stores,” said Dan Barr, president and broker for Center Investments, Inc., the East Wenatchee property management firm that handles leasing for Valley North Center.
“Ulta is a very sought-after retailer for complexes across the U.S.,” he added. “Customers who buy these products will be excited. Ulta will be a big driver of traffic at Valley North Center.”
Illinois-based Ulta opened its first store in 1990 and has grown to more than 975 stores in 48 states with around 19,000 employees. In 2016, the publicly traded company had $2.28 billion in total assets.
“Ulta has become a darling of Wall Street,” said Barr. In the last 5 years, stock value for the company, traded on NASDAQ, more than tripled to hit $278 on March 3.
The company’s trademarked slogan is “All Things Beauty, All in One Place.” Stores stock upwards of 20,000 products from more than 500 brands, including Ulta Beauty’s own private label.
By the way, Valley North Center is Wenatchee’s largest shopping center with 20 stores and restaurants, including J.C. Penney, Target, Old Navy, Pier 1 and Rite-Aid.
Restart of Alcoa smelter still on the table in PUD contract talks
WENATCHEE — Alcoa has asked for more time to decide the future of its mothballed Wenatchee Works facility as it faces a $67 million payment to the Chelan County PUD.
Chelan PUD officials said March 17 in a press release that it’s been discussing ideas in recent months with Alcoa Corporation representatives on “how to preserve the opportunity for a restart in the future.”
The talks are underway, said the release, as the June deadline approaches for Alcoa to pay $67 million to the PUD if Wenatchee Works operations remain curtailed through June, a stipulation of the power contract between the aluminum maker and the utility.
No firm decision by the global company has yet been made, said PUD General Manager Steve Wright. Any possible agreement on the smelter’s future would be subject to negotiation, he added.
Slumping aluminum prices on the world market pressured Alcoa to halt aluminum production at Wenatchee Works in December 2015. The company laid off all but 11 of its 428 employees by January 2016.
The PUD has supported a restart of the 64-year-old aluminum smelter as long as “the financial principle (of the power contract) can be achieved,” said Friday’s press release. That would mean any negotiations would need to produce “a neutral to positive financial impact on Chelan PUD customer-owners,” said the release.
In December, Alcoa paid the PUD $8 million for allowing Wenatchee Works to remain idle for a year. The $67 million payment due in June would mark 18 months of curtailment for the plant.
PUD officials don’t consider these payments penalties, since Alcoa agreed to pay them as part of its 17-year contract to buy power from the PUD. But the payments aren’t associated with any dam cost and exist only to encourage Alcoa to keep operating to avoid the big payments, PUD officials have acknowledged.
Stretching through late 2028, the Alcoa-PUD contract stipulates that the aluminum company will receive 26 percent of the electricity made at Rocky Reach and Rock Island dams, and in return pay 26 percent of costs associated with those dams whether the smelter is operating or not.
Since the facility’s halt in production, the PUD has been selling Alcoa’s share of power on the open market at rates that, for the most part, have equaled Alcoa’s payments to the PUD.
Both Wright and Alcoa spokeswoman Joyce Saltzman declined to give details of the ongoing discussions. But the talks over the last few months became more focused in December after Alcoa completed a corporate split into two separate companies.
In the split, Wenatchee Works became its own separate company to produce aluminum under the new Alcoa Corporation. Alcoa formed a second company called Arconic Inc. for semi and finished products.
Wenatchee Penney store survives nationwide closures
WENATCHEE — J.C. Penney in Wenatchee lives on.
The store at Valley North Center was not on a list released last month of 138 stores the company plans to close as it grapples with industry challenges.
The announced closures will affect stores in 40 states and upward of 5,000 employees, said a company press release. Texas leads the list with nine closures, followed by eight in Minnesota and seven in Illinois.
Liquidation sales at most stores on the closure list will begin April 17 with many of the outlets closing by the end of June.
Washington has only one announced closure — at Pilchuck Landing in Snohomish. But closures in Oregon total five stores, including those in the downtowns of Astoria, La Grande, Pendleton and The Dalles, with another at a shopping center in Grants Pass. Idaho has one closure at the Snake River Plaza in Burley.
The 138 closures are expected to save up to $200 million a year, said the company. Penney will continue to operate 900 stores.
Wire services reported in February that Penney CEO Marvin Ellison said the company’s footprint was too large for the current business climate. The closures will allow the company “to raise the overall brand standard of J.C. Penney” and invest in remaining stores, he said.
Last year, the Wenatchee store celebrated 50 years in business at Valley North Center. The company has had a presence in Wenatchee since 1912.
Earlier this year, the Macy’s store in East Wenatchee survived closure of 68 stores by that company. Sears also announced in January the closure of 150 stores, but the East Wenatchee Sears department store closed in 2013 and was replaced with a Sears Hometown store at Wenatchee Valley Mall.
Plane truth: Commuter flights to Stehekin canceled
CHELAN — Chelan Seaplanes will likely be grounded for the 2017 summer season. Owner Shane Carlson said he hasn’t been able to find a new location to base his flight operations.
Chelan Seaplanes — a 71-year-old flying taxi and tour service on Lake Chelan — glided to a halt last year when the lease expired on the lakeside property where customers parked and seaplane docks had been anchored. The property is now part of the soon-to-be-built Sunset Marina, a development of boat slips and condos.
“We have tried our best and exhausted all our options,” Carlson said last month. There just wasn’t enough time, he said, to meet requirements of the city’s master plan, not to mention state and federal permitting regulations.
Scott McKellar, a spokesman for the partnership building the marina, responded last week that Chelan Seaplanes’ landlord notified Carlson last spring that 2016 would be the flight company’s last season to use the property. McKellar charges Carlson with taking no action to find a new location until the end of the flight company’s 2016 season.
This year’s “lapse in service will be a real reminder of the value that seaplane service brings to the valley,” Carlson said in a press release. It’s a “vital lifeline to Stehekin,” he wrote, noting the flight company provides the only commuter air service to the uplake community, along with some emergency services. (Medical helicopters are also available for Stehekin emergencies.)
“Our hearts are sad that we won’t be of service to you this summer,” wrote Carlson. “We hope to fly you in the future.”
Chamber honors Dutch Bros as Business of the Year
WENATCHEE — Coffee company Dutch Bros Wenatchee Valley earned the Business of the Year Award at the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet March 15.
The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center grabbed the Nonprofit of the Year Award at the event, attended by a sold-out crowd of more than 580 business and civic leaders.
Three Cornerstone Awards for community involvement and support went to Matt Kearny, retiring director of Wenatchee Valley Sports, The Wenatchee World newspaper and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.
The awards were presented at the group’s annual banquet at the Wenatchee Convention Center. The night’s theme was “Collective Impact.”
Dutch Bros earned the group’s top business award for “a company culture that produces great customer service and perfect coffee drinks,” said Shiloh Schauer, the Chamber’s executive director. Co-owners Jimmy and Danielle Crocker — now in their 10th year in business in the Wenatchee Valley — are also “training their employees to be effective business people. They’re the next generation of young professionals in the Wenatchee Valley.”
The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center took top nonprofit honors “as an organization going through the process of reinventing itself,” said Schauer. “Certainly financially, but also in community involvement through expanded programs and outreach.” Sandy Cohen, the museum’s executive director, “has dedicated himself to again make the museum a gem in our community,” she said.
Matt Kearny, who announced his retirement at the banquet, was honored with a Cornerstone Award for “his outstanding work in encouraging and supporting sports tourism in the Wenatchee Valley,” Schauer said. During Kearny’s four years on the job, said Schauer, spending from sports tourism in the Wenatchee Valley reached its highest levels. The Sports Council reported last year’s revenues at $8.3 million.
The Wenatchee World received a Cornerstone Award because “no other business in the region embodies the night’s theme (“Collective Impact”) better than the newspaper,” said Schauer. Coverage of community events and issues, coupled with the hundreds of people employed by the paper over the last century, “puts the paper in the forefront of community involvement,” she said.
The Chamber also honored former World publisher Wilfred Woods, who died Feb. 11, with a tribute at Wednesday’s dinner.
The Community Foundation of NCW earned a Cornerstone Award for “inspiring generosity throughout our region over three decades,” said Schauer. Now celebrating its 30th year, the Community Foundation “has made great things happen,” she said. The organization also raises awareness of charitable needs among this region’s 500-plus nonprofits, Schauer added.
The Chamber dinner was capped by the premier of the third installment of the “We Are Wenatchee” video series produced by Voortex Productions of Wenatchee. See the video at vimeo.com/208608170.
RadioShack pulls the plug
A longtime favorite franchise gadget buffs and tinkerers has pulled the plug on its East Wenatchee store.
Managers of RadioShack at Wenatchee Valley Mall earlier announced last month that the 2,500-square-foot electronics-and-gizmos outlet would close March 8 . In the waining days, fans snapped up some great deals — 10 to 40 percent off and higher — on gadgets and display fixtures.
Discounts on merchandise included all the gear that keeps American lives connected: cords, plugs, cables, adapters, couplers, extensions and other plug-ins.
The store’s four employees said they’d have to search for other jobs. Associate Joceylane Cardenas had worked at the mall RadioShack for just over 20 months. She got a position there in 2015 after the Wenatchee RadioShack got the ax in a major company shuffle that closed nearly 1,800 stores. Last month, she was applying for work at various places around the Wenatchee Valley.
“We got two weeks notice, so I’m really getting in gear to find another job,” said Cardenas. She said she’s applied, along with Ramirez, at Office Depot in Wenatchee — a place they can put their electronics know-how to good use. Cardenas also had plans to apply for positions at Wenatchee Valley College and Confluence Health.
Cal Hoskison, the company’s regional manager for Washington, Idaho and Montana, said higher rents are forcing RadioShack to reconsider where it locates stores. After closing hundreds of stores two years ago and selling many others to investors, “RadioShack is operating like a start-up company,” said Hoskison. “Operating lean, watching that bottom line.”
So maybe RadioShack can find a cheaper, better location for a Wenatchee Valley store? “It’s not out of the question,” said Hoskison. “It’s been brought up, but so far we have no plans for it, no action has been taken.”
The good news in all this is that RadioShack still has a presence in North Central Washington. Deep Water Electronics in Chelan, is an authorized RadioShack franchise that carries lots of items with the company’s brand. The store is located at 131 E. Woodin Ave. 682-4529.
The hole story: Doughnut shop tastes success
WENATCHEE — Success tastes sweet for at least one local outfit — even if its business plan is full of holes.
Make that doughnut holes.
Glaze Daily Baked Delights of East Wenatchee reached a doughnut sales milestone March 3 when that day’s production of 2,500 fritters, maple bars, sweet buns, and twist, cake, jelly, cream-filled and old-fashioned doughnuts (and their holes) completely sold out by 9:30 a.m.
Now in its fifth year of business, Glaze has sold roughly 3.2 million yummies.
“That’s one sign of how our business has grown,” said Jim Eakle, co-owner of Glaze with his mother Jenifer Eakle. “It’s a serious indicator of high demand — that there’s a need for a second location.”
So rejoice, doughnut fans. Glaze will open a new 2,400-square-foot store in Wenatchee sometime in mid-April at what could be considered one of the city’s prime locations — the new commercial spaces in Riverside 9 Apartment Homes.
Glaze is the second business announcing an opening date in the 312-apartment complex. Beyoutiful Hot Yoga opened late last year. Agape Healing Arts (massage and reiki) is coming soon.
“We pretty much have an on-site clientele,” said Jim. “We’re hoping folks who live in the apartments make us their first stop every morning — doughnuts, coffee, maybe a lunch sandwich to go.”
And when you think about it, said Jim, the Riverside 9 location is only a block off Wenatchee Avenue, on the way to Town Toyota Center and less than 100 yards from the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail. “We see it as an up-and-coming area,” he said. “A good spot where we can serve a lot of people.”
The Eakles opened the East Wenatchee Glaze in May 2012 with one doughnut fryer and uncertain expectations. “We had high hopes, of course, but we weren’t sure if the business was out there,” said Jim. “Now we have two — sometimes three — doughnut fryers going pretty full time.”
Of course, doughnuts are only part of the Glaze menu. The new Wenatchee location will feature all that’s offered across the river — doughnuts, breakfast wraps and sandwiches, homemade breads, custom cakes, fruit and cream pies, coffee, soups, salads and 16 kinds of sandwiches. The new location will add one more item — much-in-demand espresso drinks.
The plan is to make all the doughnuts at the original East Wenatchee location, then truck them to Riverside 9 to add icing and decorations. Otherwise, everything else — cakes, other baked items, sandwiches — will be made right on-site.
The new restaurant will have seating for around 18 customers inside, with additional tables on the sidewalk outside. The place will have about 10 employees, which brings Glaze’s total count of workers to 24.
“It feels good to be able to give people jobs, help them live in this really nice area,” said Jim. “An employee came up just the other day all excited about his new Jeep. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I helped him buy that Jeep.’ That’s a really good thing about small businesses.”
So what’s the secret to Glaze’s success? “We serve what I call ‘real’ food,” said Jim. “We make 90 percent of what we sell right here out of the freshest ingredients we can find. We sell good products at a good price, and it keeps people coming back. Once you’ve had our doughnuts, it’s hard to go back to the convenience-store kind.”
Jim thought a moment. “We never really expected to be this successful,” he said. “And here we are … busy, growing and very excited.”
Shared work space boosts productivity, innovation
LEAVENWORTH — Matt and Chelsey Bowen are busy folks. He’s a “freelance creative” who manages an idea and marketing firm. She’s a teacher. They just built their own house. Together they run a rental company for outdoor party games.
And did we mention the baby? On the day of this interview, Matt glanced at the time and said he had to go. Pronto. “Chelsey just called and could be going into labor,” he smiled. “The baby could be on the way.”
Until that moment, Matt was deep into explaining the birth and growth of the Bowens’ “other baby” — the Leavenworth Community Workspace, a 4,000-square-foot, members-only co-working space for solo entrepreneurs, start-up owners, telecommuting employees or anyone who wants lightning-fast WiFi, fresh-brewed coffee and a pleasant place to get creative.
“It’s like an Internet cafe that we’ve taken to the next level,” said 35-year-old Matt. “It’s for people who occasionally — or frequently, for that matter — need a quiet, comfortable, professional space to work, meet with clients, hold a meeting, attend a webinar, maybe even socialize with fellow business folks.”
In other words, said Matt, the 2-year-old Workspace offers “an environment that helps a special kind of business person do his or her work. It’s not for everybody, but we’re finding out it’s the perfect set-up for a lot of professionals in a lot of different types of work situations.”
Take Morgan Fraser, for instance. She lives in isolated Lake Wenatchee and runs a one-person consulting and marketing business called Dream Maker Digital Marketing. She specializes in search engine optimization for a string of clients, but also provides career tools that “dreamers” need to achieve their dreams. She’s lived around the world, written cookbooks, taught Spanish.
“This place has doubled my productivity,” said Fraser. “When I want to really buckle down and get something done, I come here. I leave behind all the demands of home — the laundry, the dishes, the cat — and drive here two, maybe three times a week.”
Fraser set up her laptop that day in a sunny window where she had a view of Leavenworth’s Bavarian-themed architecture and strolling tourists. In an hour, she’d meet a Spanish student for that week’s lesson. “I can focus here,” said Fraser, “ For me, this place is conducive to innovation.”
It was that need for “professional space” that spurred the Bowens and friends — all working from home or in local coffee shops — to craft the plan for a Community Workspace. “We could all work separately at a cafe, but there wasn’t a quiet place for three or four of us to work together,” he said.
The Leavenworth Community Workspace took shape under the ownership of the Bowens. They found an upstairs commercial space large enough to accommodate up to 20 solo entrepreneurs, a half-dozen permanent desks, a “lounge” with sofas and easy chairs, work tables for groups and a high-tech conference and event area with an electronic whiteboard.
And, of course, the place had to have fiber optic connections, video conferencing, excellent coffee, reasonable prices and 24-hour access.
“It all came together because we needed it to come together,” said Matt. “We needed a space like this to do our best work.”
The Bowens moved six years ago from Bellingham to the upper Wenatchee Valley for the outdoor opportunities and, said Matt, “the amazing community.” Matt handled marketing for a local brewery, while Chelsey worked at a pre-school and daycare center. Last year, Matt opened Rootstone Creative, parent company to the Bowens’ businesses and other creative efforts, and Chelsey was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Vale Elementary School in Cashmere. Together, they created Leisure Games, a rental company for outdoor party games such as Giant Jenga, Ladderball and Tether Toss.
Now, said Matt, the Workspace has evolved into more than a hub for solo workers. It’s also become a venue where local businesses give presentations and hold meetings. In January, the Workspace launched a Small Business Development Series with a session on tax tips. On Monday, a week of social media training workshops will kick off.
A co-working space also has beneficial environmental impacts, he added. Multiple workers sharing a space conserves energy and resources. “And because we’re centrally located, I’m seeing a lot of our members walking or biking here,” he said.
But best of all, said Matt, a room of 10 or 12 people working in one room — each one absorbed in their own project — creates a low-level energy that can boost creativity and speed work. “Clients tell us this is a good place to get a lot of work done,” he said.
As for the Bowens’ latest project — their first child — Matt’s rush that day to be present at the birth was a false alarm. At last report (on Friday), the couple was still waiting for the baby’s arrival. “It’s my most important ongoing project,” laughed Matt.
Staffing company to host leadership simulcast
WENATCHEE — One of the region’s top staffing companies will host a leadership simulcast in April that features popular figures in business and sports.
Express Employment Professionals of Wenatchee will present the eighth annual Refresh Leadership Live Simulcast beginning at 9 a.m. April 12 at the Confluence Technology Center, 285 Technology Center Way, Wenatchee.
The event focuses “on how leaders can reach the next level, inspire their people and become more effective in their roles,” said an Express Employment press release.
Featured speakers will include Patrick Lencioni, author of “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and other bestsellers, two-time Super Bowl champion coach Jimmy Johnson and champion adventure racer Robyn Benincasa.
“This year’s lineup is well-versed in the essential characteristics of outstanding teams and the role leadership plays in helping them succeed,” said Jay Smith, co-owner with wife Debbie of the Express Employment franchise in Wenatchee.
For more info, call Express Employment at 662-5187. To register for the simulcast, visit refreshleadership.com/live. The cost is $30, which includes a continental breakfast.
Largest, tallest: New Marriott to change eastside skyline
EAST WENATCHEE — A weedy vacant lot piled with boulders and bordered by a Chinese restaurant may soon have bragging rights when construction of a new hotel begins here this spring.
In fact, said developers, if all goes according to plan the new Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites will be able to tout a list of superlatives:
♦ Newest: East Wenatchee hasn’t had a new hotel under construction since the Cedars Inn in 1995.
♦ Largest: The new hotel will rank first in size for the city with 99 rooms.
♦ Tallest: At five stories, the Fairfield will be the city’s highest hotel and also its tallest occupied building.
♦ Fastest: The hotel’s modular design will cut construction time to 7 months from the usual hotel build-out of 12 to 15 months.
♦ First: The Marriott franchise will be the first major hotel brand in the city.
The $12 million hotel project, located east of Valley Mall Parkway between Second and Third streets and next to Super China Star Buffet, is scheduled to begin construction in May with a possible opening by February 2018. Management expects to hire up to 35 employees.
Developer Gurbir Sandhu, a partner in Richland-based Superior Hospitality Corporation, said the new Fairfield will be “an upscale, limited service hotel” — meaning mid-luxury rooms with no on-site restaurant or meeting spaces — similar to a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express.
“What we promise travelers is a fresh, clean and comfortable room,” said Sandhu. “Upscale accommodations at a reasonable price.” An indoor pool, fitness center, grab-and-go cafe, airport shuttle and WiFi top the hotel’s amenities list, he added. “And, of course, East Wenatchee’s fantastic view of the Cascade mountains.”
Superior Hospitality pinpointed East Wenatchee for new lodging, he said, “because it’s been a growing but neglected market for a quarter of a century. There just aren’t enough hotel rooms at peak times for all the travelers who want to visit the Wenatchee area.”
Also a partner in Edge Hospitality Corp., owners of Wenatchee’s Red Lion Hotel, Sandhu said he’s heard from event planners that some organizations are bypassing Wenatchee as a convention site due to a lack of hotel rooms. “We hope to help remedy that situation.”
Superior Hospitality chose to build a Marriott “because of the support they provide franchisees,” said Sandhu, “and also for their international reputation.” A surprising number of visitors to the Wenatchee area are from abroad, he said. “The agricultural industry and outdoor recreation bring people from all over the world.”
The new Fairfield will be the first time that one of nation’s top five hotel chains has opened a facility in East Wenatchee, said Sandhu. Those top five chains include Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn, Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Marriott (Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and others). Marriott already has a SpringHill Suites in Wenatchee.
Sited on a lot of just under 2 acres, the new hotel will use an innovative modular design to speed construction, said the developer. Room modules constructed in Boise will be trucked to the East Wenatchee site and hoisted into place by crane.
“It’s not a cheaper way to build, but it’s faster,” said Sandhu. “We pour the foundation and build the first floor,” he said, “then stack the modules on top.” It takes only a week for the five-story hotel to rise from its first-floor base, while the interior finish work takes several more months to complete.
Sandhu noted that the new Fairfield will increase the total number of hotel rooms in East Wenatchee by 60 percent — from 164 to 263 — and contribute to city revenues through lodging taxes.
“We’ll be doing our part to boost tourism dollars in East Wenatchee and the Wenatchee Valley,” said Sandhu.
Phillippi Fruit regrouping after fire
WENATCHEE — As a yellow excavator ripped metal siding from what remained of his family’s fruit packing shed after it was destroyed by fire March 24, co-owner Dave Phillippi was unsure whether Phillippi Fruit Co. would pack fruit this year.
“I don’t know how we’re gonna deal with it yet,” Phillippi said. “I gotta deal with the insurance company and see how these things go.”
A 67-year-old fruit packing shed located on the 1900 block of Fifth Street caught fire around 8:25 p.m. and quickly engulfed the building.
“There was significant fire involvement when it was initially called in,” Chelan County Fire District 1 Chief Mike Burnett said on Friday. At least six fi re agencies from Chelan and Douglas county
responded to the fi re.
Chelan County PUD crews cut power to a 10-square block area so firefi ghters could work safely and to protect the 100 or so bystanders. The fire was mostly knocked down by about 10:45 p.m. The shed that burned down was used to package fruit. An adjacent fruit storage building — separated by only five feet — was saved.
“So they did an exceptional job (Friday) night of keeping the fi re out of that building,” said Kelly Lindemann, a battalion chief with Chelan County Fire District 1. “With that kind of an exposure and that much heat release, it was very impressive.”
“The fire department did a good job,” Phillippi said. Adding, “I was pretty impressed.”
From early on, crews made it a point to protect the the storage building, Burnett said.
“They didn’t think they could save this one,” Phillippi said of the packing shed. “But they were really working just keeping this dampered down and saving this other building.”
Crews pressurized the storage building by putting fans inside and sealing the building as a way to keep smoke from getting inside, Phillippi said.
“And it seems to have works,” Phillippi said. “But we’re gonna pull all the product out of here and move it to another facility.”
After that, they’ll assess smoke damage, he added.
In a Facebook post, the company wrote that other branches of the company were unharmed.
“Fortunately our cherry facility is at another location, and our packaging materials were off -site,” the post said. “It also didn’t get our distillery.”
Phillippi said they’ll still harvest fruit, but isn’t sure whether they’ll be able to package it this fall.
“The goal is to explore what we can do,” Phillippi said. “We’ll take the approach that we can pack next fall, and see what we can do.”
A small crew spend the following day mopping up hotspots and tearing down hazardous standing parts of the structure. An investigation into the cause of the fire was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was pushed back to Sunday to allow crews to extinguish lingering hotspots.
Chelan PUD ponders $114 million move to Olds Station area
WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD is considering building a $114 million campus in the Olds Station area that would combine for better efficiency what is today the utility’s Wenatchee Avenue headquarters and Hawley Street campuses.
And that’s just part of a proposed $175 million to $183 million overhaul or reconstruction of the aged and over-worked shops, garages, yards, warehouses, staff rooms and other facilities the PUD owns in downtown Wenatchee and at its Rock Island and Rocky Reach dams.
On March 24, commissioners hosted the general public’s first look at a facilities-improvement proposal that pledges to improve response times, lead to higher employee productivity and safety and a better customer experience.
The affected buildings have been modified over the years. Most date to the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s.
The spending could come over 25 to 50 years, or as little as three to five years, to get the biggest gain in efficiencies and lowest land and construction costs. An actual location for a new headquarters in the Olds Station area has yet to be decided.
Rebuilding the headquarters and Hawley Street campuses from scratch is cheaper, a PUD consultant found, than continuing to upgrade or modify existing buildings that are outdated, overworked, and unsuitable or otherwise bursting at the seams for a utility that has grown from a staff of 285 employees in 1967 to some 800 employees today.
Facility upgrades at the dams would happen through combination of reconstruction and improvements to existing structures.
PUD General Manager Steve Wright told commissioners the expedited “rebuild” proposal as having the least and most predictable cost, and the biggest benefits for customer service, and employee productivity and safety.
Over the past year, the PUD has spent $825,000 of a total $890,000 contract with consultant TCF Architecture of Tacoma to review the current condition and configuration of dozens of PUD buildings.
PUD officials presented the consultant’s findings Feb. 27 to a team of community leaders who have been discussing the utility’s need for facilities upgrades since 2014. In that year, the PUD launched a year-long effort to gather customer feedback about how to spend its money for the longer term, going forward.
Wenatchee actuary Bart Clennon, one of the customer team members, said Wednesday that the group may have questions about whether it would be possible to carry out all the desired upgrades under the “combine and rebuild” scenario, but not the integrity of the PUD’s estimated costs and efficiency gains.
“I really applaud the PUD,” Clennon said. “They’ve taken impeccable care of the dams and the electric system, but the buildings have lagged behind. It’s a very major undertaking. They need to come up with the big-picture answer first. Sometimes you can’t get the ideal, but you can start with the ideal.”
PUD officials and the consultant estimate that nearly $392,000 could be saved in employee time at Rock Island Dam, alone, if storage and other buildings were reconfigured to reduce workers’ needs to travel across the dam’s narrow and congested deck to fetch tools and materials needed for projects on the other side.
“It’s been a ton of work to get to this point,” Dan Frazier, shared-services director for the utility, said Monday of the research process. “We were told to turn over every stone, every dime, every cost. And that’s what we did.”
Commissioners Monday expressed receptiveness to the staff proposal, which they’ll next discuss at their April 3 board meeting and take public comment.
“I’m very excited about the work done up to this point,” Commissioner Steve McKenna said. “It’s very clear. I appreciate this work.”
Discussion Monday didn’t include what would happen to any property the PUD vacated from its current Wenatchee campuses, which are both on prime real estate close to downtown shops and/or Columbia River waterfront parks and trail system.
Steve King, director of community and economic development for the city of Wenatchee, has spoken of the benefits that city would gain if that land were sold to private developers and put back on the tax rolls. PUD-owned lands are tax exempt.
Both King and Allison Williams, the city’s executive services director, were present for the facilities presentation Monday, as was Linda Haglund, executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association.