Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Oct. 19, 2021

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Kauffman Shopping Center co-owner holds out for grocery store

West Vancouver site has been largely empty for 15 years

By , Columbian business reporter
3 Photos
The Kauffman Shopping Center on Fourth Plain Boulevard has sat empty for 15 years, apart from the Espresso Divine drive-thru.
The Kauffman Shopping Center on Fourth Plain Boulevard has sat empty for 15 years, apart from the Espresso Divine drive-thru. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Earlier this week, a reader emailed The Columbian with a question: Why has the shopping center at Northwest Kauffman Avenue and West Fourth Plain Boulevard stood empty for more than 10 years?

It’s a great question, and it’s been asked several times before. But the last time The Columbian tackled it was in 2010, so it’s probably time for a refresher.

The site has been empty for at least 15 years, apart from a small Espresso Divine drive-thru stand. The property includes a 23,700-square-foot anchor building that once housed a Thriftway grocery and a multitenant retail building on the east side of a central parking lot.

The 14,500-square-foot retail building was built in 2003 to replace a previous building that burned down two years earlier, but the space was never filled. The anchor building was built in 1982 and has also been empty since at least 2004.

The explanation is simple enough, according to Richard Baranzano, a Portland commercial real estate agent who co-owns the site with his brother. It’s the same explanation Baranzano has given since 2003: He wants to see a grocery store return to the anchor building, and he hasn’t been able to land one — at least, not yet.

The Baranzanos have owned the site since 1999, and Richard Baranzano says plenty of interested parties have reached out to him over the years, but none of the proposed tenants fit with his vision.

“Some people want it for medical use — I get a lot of names there,” he says. “It has never been good enough for what I want. I’ve been sticking with a grocery store.”
The retail building has remained empty as well because Baranzano says he wants the grocery anchor to be in place first, so that he can match the retail tenants to be the best fit. He says he expects the retail building to quickly find tenants when the time comes — the grocery store is the hard part.

Baranzano says he can’t discuss any conversations he’s had with specific grocery companies, but he lists New Seasons, Zupan’s and Market of Choice as examples of the type of store he’s targeting, based on the size of the site and the surrounding population.

Fifteen years is a long wait, but Baranzano says his determination stems from the fact that, as he sees it, the local market for a grocery store at the site has only gotten better over time. That’s why he’s embarking on what he characterizes as a renewed marketing push this year, after leaving the site on the back burner for the past few years.

The shopping center was re-listed on the commercial real estate site Loopnet last month. The post highlights the growth of Vancouver’s downtown and emphasizes that the site is the only full shopping center in the area and is located at an intersection along a major arterial road that connects to Interstate 5.

“What’s changed is what’s going on along the river, and all the infrastructure money put into place,” Baranzano says. “I wanted to be in that position before I strongly marketed the spot for lease. I just put my attention into something else in the meantime.”

Despite its rapid population growth in the past decade, downtown Vancouver still lacks a grocery store — the closest options are the Main Street Safeway near East 39th Street and the Grand Central Fred Meyer near Pearson Field. A 2010 Neighborhood Action Plan for the Fruit Valley area west of downtown includes a goal to encourage the establishment of a grocery store in the area.

That assessment probably sounds familiar, because it’s the same concern the city of Vancouver has been trying to address with a yearslong campaign to bring a grocery store to the vacant downtown Block 10.

That similarity isn’t lost on Baranzano, who says he’s been occasionally frustrated by what he describes as the city’s seemingly single-minded focus on Block 10 as the grocery store destination. He contends his shopping center would make a better candidate to serve the same area.

“If they want a grocery store, they should market their Block 10 but also send (interested developers) my way,” he says.

The Kauffman Shopping Center is already built, he argues, and is well-connected to the surrounding roads to allow for easy access for customer traffic and delivery trucks. A Block 10 store would have to contend with a traffic grid that can’t handle as many cars and doesn’t offer easy truck access, he says.

Economic Development Director Chad Eiken says the city is also interested in seeing the property occupied, but has occasionally tried to get Baranzano to consider other types of businesses for the site. So far, he’s remained committed to the grocery store.

Real estate agents who spoke to The Columbian have speculated that Baranzano’s asking price for a lease on the space might be too high — the current listing seeks $35 per square foot per year for the anchor building and $27 per square foot per year for the retail building. But when asked, he disagrees.

“I deserve to ask what anyone else asks for rent,” he says. “I’m market rate.”
Baranzano says he’s taking a financial hit while the buildings stay empty, but he says it’s worth it to hold out for the right tenant at the right lease rate, rather than risk locking himself into a long-term lease with the wrong one. In the meantime, he hopes residents will be patient about the vacant site.

“I understand why they wonder,” he says, “but the waterfront took almost 10 years to get started. Sometimes it takes some time.”

Columbian business reporter