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Milliette out at Mission Ridge

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East Wenatchee Mayor

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The search has begun for a new general manager at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort following the resignation April 11 of longtime manager Mark Milliette.

Resort owner Larry Scrivanich confirmed that he and Milliette couldn’t reach an agreement on how to best market the resort and on other issues. “We seemed to be going in different directions,” Scrivanich said.

Discussions led to Milliette submitting his resignation at the end of Mission Ridge’s regular season, which ended April 11. Scrivanich said no one else on the resort staff submitted resignations or lost their jobs.

The owner said changes will be made next season in marketing and resort amenities to appeal to a broader range of skiers and snowboarders. “We don’t have the luxury anymore to pick and choose our target customers,” he said. “We need to appeal to everyone — age 6 to 60 and beyond. Way beyond.”

Scrivanich said he wanted to find a new general manager to “bring a new vision, new energy and new enthusiasm” to the resort. “It comes down to this — the resort needs to be more fun,” said Scrivanich. “That’s the reason people buy lift tickets.”

Milliette had served as the resort’s general manager for 14 years. Scrivanich bought the resort from Seattle-based Harbor Resorts prior to the 2003-2004 season.

We appreciate all Mark’s hard work and wish him well,” Scrivanich said. “His contributions to Mission Ridge have been huge. He’s taught me 90 percent of what I know about the ski business.”


Clute to retire from visitors bureau

After seven years of welcoming travelers to the Wenatchee Valley, the executive director of the area’s visitors bureau is hitting the road himself.

But, said Roger Clute, only for brief trips to spice up his new retirement. “The Wenatchee Valley is home. This is where we have family. This is where we belong.”

Clute, 64, announced his retirement April 11 to the WVVB board and to the business community two days later. His last day is May 15.

As time passes, it becomes increasingly clear that in order to cross everything off my bucket list I have to get busy traveling and spending time with friends and family,” he said in a news release.

Clute joined the WVVB in 2005, after nearly 15 years in hotel marketing. He had previously been vice-president of regional sales for two major chains, including Red Lion Hotels.

We were shocked by Roger’s announcement,” said Chuck Johnson, chairman of the WVVB board. “We knew he was thinking about retirement, but we thought it’d be in six months, maybe longer. We wish him nothing but the best.”

Johnson said board members will meet in coming weeks to plan the search for a new director. “We’ll be looking for someone with skills in destination marketing, communication, leadership and finances — everything Roger excelled in,” he said.

He’ll be greatly missed,” said Craig Larsen, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. “He brought a deep knowledge of tourism and promotion from his years in the hotel industry — experience that has served our valley well.”

During his tenure at the visitors bureau, Clute helped position the Wenatchee Valley as one the state’s leading wine, food and recreation destinations, an effort that attracted tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.

He also helped usher local tourism marketing into the digital age by overseeing installation of electronic kiosks for visitors and helping create touring maps with GPS coordinates. His work to improve the WVVB website increased unique visitor counts from 500 to 10,000 per month.

Clute also helped:

• Lead efforts to establish the Tourism Promotion Assessment, a small fee on hotel stays that’s raised $200,000 in promotional funds for the valley.

• Hire the public relations firm GreenRubino of Seattle. In 2011, the firm’s efforts resulted in an estimated $3.1 million in free publicity in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts and online.

• Move the WVVB visitor center to a higher-visibility downtown location at 5 S. Wenatchee Ave.

• Create Cascade Valley Wine Country, a marketing organization of all wineries in the two-county area and is funded by the Ports of Chelan and Douglas counties.

• Install a wine-tasting room at the WVVB visitors center. It’s only the second facility of this kind in the state.


Amway will build $32 million plant

The international company announced in April that it will build a $32 million plant here to process organic herbs for its line of nutritional products.

The 48,000-square-foot facility will create about 30 jobs. Construction will begin later this year on 12 acres in the Port of Quincy’s newly developed Industrial Park No. 6. The plant is expected open in 2014.

Amway has already begun the process of obtaining utility and building permits with the City of Quincy and Grant County, said Curt Morris, chairman and president of the Port of Quincy.

The current purchase agreement also includes an option to buy an additional 15 acres for future expansion that could bring another 50 jobs, Morris said.

The plant — an “extraction and concentration facility,” according to the company — will process crops from Trout Lake Farm, an organic grower of medicinal herbs and teas with acreage and a milling operation located south of Ephrata. The farm’s head office is in Trout Lake.

Trout Lake Farm is the largest certified organic herb farm in North America, according to Amway, and provides blueberry, oregano, peppermint, nettle, echinacea and other plants used in Amway’s Nutrilite vitamins and supplements.

Plant concentrates are used in nearly two-thirds of Nutrilite products, the company reported.

The new Quincy plant is part of Amway’s plan to restructure its supply chain by moving processing facilities closer to growers. The Quincy plant and another in Michigan will replace a larger processing facility in Lakeview, Calif., which is scheduled to close sometime in 2013.

East Wenatchee

Efforts stall to open new post office

Even the mayor here is feeling the post office pinch.

Mayor Steve Lacy, an attorney in his day job, said he’s stuck with stacks of obsolete stationery now that the city’s only official postal station shut down two months ago. His legal office rented a postal box at the old location, an address that’s no longer valid.

Can’t use this stuff anymore,” he said of the letterhead. “Even worse, it’s a constant reminder that we don’t have a real post office anymore.”

And it’s likely to stay that way, postal officials said April 13, unless a local business in this city of more than 13,000 steps forward to house a “contract postal unit,” a type of in-store post office that offers most mail services.

We were hoping someone would step up and take it over,” said Wenatchee Postmaster Dannelle Kraude. “But they didn’t. Right now, East Wenatchee has no official postal presence.”

In March, 11 local businesses had responded to a call for bids by the U.S. Postal Service for a new contract mail facility on the eastside. Each received a 45-page document that included a long list of requirements for handicapped access, hours of operation, safety and security, performance standards and other criteria.

But no one bit, said Kraude. “We were encouraged by the initial response but, in the end, I guess no one felt it’d be worth their while.”

East Wenatchee lost its 52-year-old contract post office on Feb. 25 when the pharmacy that housed the mail center closed its doors.


Young restaurateur freshens-up fare

After working in Mexican restaurants his whole life, José “Lenny” Garcia is serving up something new.

The third-generation restaurateur has transformed the popular Tequila’s, his family’s 22-year-old Mexican eatery, into a bright, colorful, art-filled family restaurant and bar featuring fresh and, yes, much healthier fare. He’s renamed it El Agave.

Our customers’ tastes have changed over the years,” said the 27-year-old Garcia. “So we’re providing what they’ve asked for — good, fresh food in a fun and lively place.”

In March, Garcia poured nearly $100,000 into revamping the restaurant’s decor by knocking down walls, bringing in more light, expanding the dining area, tiling floors and wainscoting and filling the space with brilliant colors — on walls, windows treatments, tables, chairs and artworks.

Garcia said he and his restaurant staff did most of the initial demolition work — “we had fun punching out the walls” — and then a construction crew worked round the clock for two weeks to ready the restaurant for a mid-March opening.

Finishing touches included Mexican-made light fixtures, dozens of hand-carved and hand-painted chairs and tables from Jalisco, Mexico, and traditional south-of-the-border paintings.

Some of those were rendered by local artist Terry Johnson at Terry Signs, just three blocks down the street. They include a mural that includes Garcia family members and restaurant staff, along with a couple of works using the bold style of Diego Rivera, a Mexican muralist.

Garcia then remade the menu by stripping away unhealthy ingredients — lard, monosodium glutamate (MSG), excessive cheese — and replaced them with olive and canola oils, sea salt and, in some entrees, platters of fresh steamed vegetables. The more organic, the better, he said.

We kept the traditional dishes, kept the Mexican tastes everyone loves, but have tried to make them in the healthiest way we can,” Garcia said. “We had to play around a lot with the recipes, but we think we’ve succeeded.”

Garcia’s talent for food and business comes naturally, he said. His parents opened Tequila’s in Wenatchee in 1990 and now own 13 Mexican restaurants in Colorado and New Mexico.

I’ve been working in a Mexican restaurant since I was five years old,” said Garcia. “I’ve washed dishes, waited tables, learned to cook in the old ways, learned to add my own modern touches.”

When his father put Tequila’s up for sale a few years ago, Garcia stepped in to buy it. “He made me a good deal,” he laughed. “It was my chance to do something on my own.”

Now, in addition to Wenatchee, Garcia has an El Agave restaurant in Ephrata and will soon open one in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

We think the El Agave concept — organic, healthy, but full of taste — can work anywhere in the country,” said the restaurateur. “Wherever people love good food.”

East Wenatchee

A move forward to revitalize downtown

Plans to revitalize the city’s old downtown may finally be taking shape after nearly 20 years of community head-scratching.

The downtown area was at center stage April 3 when more than 40 residents, business owners and city and county leaders discussed in detail what’s wrong, what’s right and what’s definitely needed to breathe new life into the 80-year-old commercial district.

It’s inspiring to hear all these great ideas,” said Brad Drury, chairman of the East Wenatchee Planning Commission. “It’s clear people love the downtown area and want to improve it. I think we’re on our way.”

Ideas included simple projects such as widening sidewalks and improving lighting to more sweeping, complicated changes — redirecting traffic flow, improving the retail mix and returning buildings to their original 1940s designs.

In coming months, the suggestions will be sifted and compiled as part of a process to decide on a redevelopment direction for the half-mile stretch of Valley Mall Parkway at the north end of town.

April’s public workshop, an early step in the Rediscover East Wenatchee Downtown Visioning Project, was part of the city planning commission’s regular monthly meeting. Participants broke into five small groups to brainstorm scores of ideas that would make the downtown area more lively, friendly and family-oriented.

The gathering was organized by Lori Barnett, the city’s community development director. Architectural drawings by Thom Vetter, head designer at Wenatchee-based EcoPlan & Design, acted as a springboard for the 90 minutes of brainstorming.

What we’re trying to do here is create a liveable, dynamic space that has identity,” Barnett told the gathering.

The city now has about $45,000 for small, short-term projects in the downtown area. Funding would need to be found for any larger rehab projects with costs that could run into millions of dollars.

Poring over aerial views of the downtown area, Tuesday’s workshop participants suggested:

• More — lots more — off-street parking for shoppers, diners and users of the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail.

• A general clean-up of the entire area, along with finding ways to motivate business owners to spruce up their properties.

• A consistent look to the area’s small- to medium-sized buildings that supports, said one participant, “boutique-ish” commerce. But not necessarily a “theme town” look.

• Using the area’s affordable rents and property prices as an “incubator” for small businesses.

• Broader sidewalks to accommodate trees, outdoor seating, bike racks and a better pedestrian flow.

• Promoting downtown’s proximity to major amenities, such as the view of mountains and Columbia River, the Loop Trail and Wenatchee Valley Mall.

• Better signs to direct highway traffic to the old downtown and public parking areas.

• Better lighting.

• A broader tenant mix — adding more retail and professional services — with family-oriented amenities, such as a park, play area, wading pool and movie theater.

• More community events, such as street fairs, outdoor music and sidewalk sales.

• Somehow, some way reducing the sewage smell from the treatment plant across Highway 28 from downtown.

Calls for downtown improvement have cropped up at least twice in the last two decades. In the early 1990s, Eastern Washington University conducted a survey of business owners and residents to determine what could be done to improve traffic patterns and attract more customers to the area’s businesses. And another effort in 2002 lost momentum and died.

In February 2011, downtown business owners approached the City Council for help with street clean-up and parking in the two-block core area. Those two blocks contain restaurants, bars, thrift shops and hair salons and business offices, along with a tattoo parlor, pawn shop and adult arcade.

On weekends, the primary parking lot overflows with cars, business owners said at the time. In any redesign, more parking would be crucial.

The council allotted $5,000 to study the needs of residents and business owners in downtown East Wenatchee, a commercial core dating from the 1930s. EcoPlan & Design, a Wenatchee consulting firm, was hired to do the work.

The area under study includes up to 62 properties along the stretch of Valley Mall Parkway between the Wenatchee Valley Mall and the Douglas County PUD building.


Wenatchee hotel adds electric-car chargers

Two new, bright green charging stations will make Springhill Suites in Wenatchee the first Marriott-brand hotel in Washington to go electric-car friendly.

Felecia McAbee, general manager, said the chargers would be up and running by mid-April.

The stations are in the hotel’s parking lot at the corner of North Wenatchee Avenue and Walnut Street. They can recharge an electric car battery pack in about four hours, she said.

The hotel’s “Level 2” chargers have more voltage than a wall outlet, but not as much as a “Level 3” fast-charge station. Level 2 stations are also available in the parking lots of the Wenatchee Convention Center, Wenatchee Valley College, Stevens Pass ski area and Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort in Leavenworth.


Ag industry outlook brightens for 2012

Farmers, ranchers and other producers are optimistic this spring as prices rise, supplies tighten and demand increases, according to a regional farm financing and insurance company.

Economic snapshots released in April of ag industries across Eastern Washington showed strong markets and robust profits in apples, wheat, hay, beef, potatoes and wine and grapes, according to Michael Stolp of Northwest Farm Credit Services in Spokane.

Highlights included:

Apples: Strong domestic and export markets are keeping average apple prices high. Growers anticipate a huge, perhaps record, crop this year due to strong bud potential.

Wheat: Domestic wheat markets are neutral to bullish. Planted acres nationwide are down 1 percent from last year, which could mean lower production and higher prices.

Potatoes: Last year’s production in the state was up 11 percent in 2011. But supplies remain tight and processor demand strong, which should boost prices in 2012.

Wine and grapes: The relatively mild winter should boost production, while tightening bulk wine inventories boost prices.


Chinese students will help with survey

Four Chinese students attending Central Washington University will be working here in coming weeks to help survey downtown businesses and shoppers as part of the upcoming street overlay and improvement project on Wenatchee Avenue.

Working with the Wenatchee Downtown Association, the students will learn about “engaging the community in discussions about improvements in public infrastructure,” said Linda Haglund, the WDA’s executive director.

That’s a concept that’s new, she said, for the students from Liuzhou City, China.

The student team will work in Wenatchee one day a week through May, Haglund said. They will spend one year at CWU to earn masters degrees before returning home to China.

We encourage everyone to meet these students and help with the survey questions,” Haglund said.