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Arena anchors growth of surrounding development

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"Convergence," an 18-foot stainless steel and basalt sculpture, rises from a new traffic roundabout, part of an ongoing Riverside Drive construction project in Wenatchee.

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Rising commercial, residential, office spaces part of waterfront plan

WENATCHEE — It’s all going according to plan.

Since the opening of Town Toyota Center in 2008, more than $150 million in peripheral development has occurred along Wenatchee’s riverfront corridor, say city planners. Much of it is due to the arena’s arrival nearly a decade ago.

New businesses, offices, apartments, recreation facilities, street improvements — all tied directly or loosely to the $52 million Town Toyota Center (TTC) — have begun to fill in zoning slots that were designated in the city’s waterfront master plan back in 2004.

And with the arena as anchor for the waterfront’s north end, say officials, more development is on the way.

We’re off to a great start in seeing the city’s long-term waterfront plans take shape,” said Steve King, Wenatchee’s community and economic development director. “But there’s much more under discussion by planners and developers who have a creative eye for our future. It’s really an exciting time.”

In the works along the 1.5 miles between the TTC at the north end and Pybus Public Market to the south are:

  • A three-story office-residential building now under construction on Walla Walla Avenue by Draggoo Financial
  • A riverfront complex of townhomes at the end of River Park Avenue East
  • A new hotel on vacant property across the street from Riverside 9 Apartments
  • A 140-unit apartment complex between Riverside Drive and North Piere Street near Columbia Valley Brewing
  • And a long-planned office-retail-residential development at the corner of Riverside Drive and Fifth Street

Swerve inland a few blocks from the Columbia River to find even more proposed development — most notably, said King, an extension of McKittrick Street between Wenatchee Avenue and Hawley Street that will help open an existing warehouse district to major redevelopment.

In that area, the Diamond Foundry, a high-tech diamond manufacturer, is already renovating a former fruit warehouse as its new home. Nearby, the 7-acre state Department of Transportation property, which could be vacant and surplused in the next year or so, has caught the attention of planners and developers. Ideas for the property include a shopping complex or national-brand hotel.

It’s tempting to say that Wenatchee’s waterfront development is about to happen,” said King. “But the truth is that it’s already happening, and happening big.”

Back in 2004, the city put together its Waterfront Sub-Area Master Plan, a document that called for increased waterfront development and outlined zoning and street improvements to encourage it to happen.

Already a major draw for city residents, Walla Walla Point Park’s river access and ballfields convinced planners that the area around it should be designated a “recreation node,” said King, which would attract sports-friendly businesses and amenities.

When the idea of a community arena was born, we realized it fit perfectly into that area near the park and ballfields,” he said. “It was a logical location for a place to play hockey and go to big concerts.”

In addition to the north-end recreation node, the city’s waterfront master plan also envisioned a residential-office node at Fifth Street and Riverside Drive and a retail-and-hotel node near downtown — which has been fulfilled by Pybus Market and the under-construction Hilton Garden Inn.

What many residents don’t know, said King, is that the promise of a major arena and waterfront developments helped the city receive millions of dollars in state and federal grants to build the streets and the install utilities that, right now, are serving businesses and apartments near the river.

We leveraged what were then grand plans for the future into grant money that helped build the backbone of the city’s waterfront development,” said King, referring to a $10 million state grant to upgrade Riverside Drive and rehab the entry road to Walla Walla Point Park. More grant money came later for other infrastructure projects.

It worked because state agencies wanted to invest in projects that would have a winning outcome,” said King. “They wanted to be part of transforming this city’s waterfront into a prosperous area.”

In addition, said King, that prosperity has stretched beyond the waterfront to boost business at local hotels, restaurants and retail stores across the city.

King said the arena in particular attracts thousands of visitors during “shoulder seasons” between the region’s peak summer-winter tourism months. In late winter and spring, the Wenatchee Wild hockey team — part of the British Columbia Hockey League — draws fans from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley (Vernon, Penticton, Kelowna) to see their teams play here.

The value of hosting a team like this, along with other sports events, shouldn’t be underestimated,” said King. “Hockey, skating events, the Special Olympics, big conventions and trade shows — together they attract customers who support many businesses in town.”

Currently, the Riverfront Rock Gym, directly across Walla Walla Avenue from the TTC, “fits perfectly with the idea of a recreation node at the north end (of the waterfront),” said King. “Its climbing walls and cafe draw a wide variety of customers. Climbing, exercising, eating — a good mix of activities all in one place.”

Next door, Draggoo Financial is building a 14,000-square-foot three-story building to house the company’s offices, along with apartments upstairs.

In recent years, a food truck (no longer in operation) also sold pizzas and sandwiches at the southern edge of Walla Walla Point Park. Operators of the truck also rented kayaks and paddleboards to water-sports enthusiasts.

The 2004 waterfront master plan called for 1,400 residential units along the riverfront in the following 10 to 20 years, said King. “And if you add together what’s been built with what’s coming soon, I’d say we’re about halfway there,” he said.

We’re seeing a transformation along the river,” King said. “Big plans that are coming true.”