published on March 21, 2016 - 11:04 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

The recent news of major restaurant chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Buffalo Wild Wings opening at the Hanford Mall this summer has sparked interest throughout the community, with local city and business leaders hailing the additions as a sign of the city’s continued growth as a top market in the Valley.

“The addition of these big names makes us an even better place for people to want to visit,” said Geary Galusha, board member with the Hanford Chamber of Commerce. “Plus, they’ll bring in more jobs and tax revenue for the city.”

Already, he said the chamber has heard from people throughout the community excited for the new restaurants, particularly the planned Dunkin’ Donuts. The restaurant is the chain’s first location to be announced in the Central Valley.

“Lots of people around here really love their coffee so this is going to be a major draw,” he said.

The national donut and coffee chain has signed a lease for a 2,000-square-foot pad location along 12th Avenue and will feature a drive-thru window.

The company had been in talks with the mall’s owner, Southern California-based Passco Companies LLC, for seven months and will open sometime this summer, said Joanne Doerter, general manager at the Hanford Mall.

“How great is it that Hanford gets it before the bigger markets,” she said. “That says a lot about the growth of our city.”

Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle agreed and said the city has noticed an increase in retail and restaurant activity over the last few years.

“The market had slowed down for a while just like anywhere else, but now we’re starting to see a lot of pent up demand,” he said. “People are a lot more comfortable spending now and we’re seeing strong growth in auto sales, retail and restaurants.”

“When the population starts creeping up towards 60,000, that also helps since it does begin to start attracting businesses to the area,” he added.

According to U.S. Census data, the city added more than 12,000 new residents between 2000 and 2013. While that growth has slowed somewhat in the past few years, Doerter said the mall has continued to hear from new retailers interested in spreading to the region.  

“We’ve got businesses that are looking at Hanford today that wouldn’t ever have thought about us a few years ago,” she said.

Among the mall’s other recently announced additions are Buffalo Wild Wings, Pieology Pizzeria and Five Guys. The restaurants will move into retail pad locations around the mall in the coming months and are part of a larger trend focusing on lifestyle, food and entertainment at the Hanford Mall.

Buffalo Wild Wings will take over a 4,623-square-foot space formerly occupied by Denny’s at the southeast corner of 12th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard, while Pieology and Five Guys will split a 4,000-square-foot facility. All three will feature outdoor patios adjacent to the mall.

Each of the restaurants will be a first for the chains in the Hanford market, and Doerter said she expects the new businesses to help increase foot traffic for the mall’s other tenants.

The additions come at a key time for the mall, as one of its anchor tenants recently announced plans to close by the end of the month.

Forever 21 currently occupies 80,000-square-feet of space in the Hanford Mall but is closing the location as part of a larger downsizing effort throughout the state. The teen retailer owns the building outright, and Doerter said the company is currently working with a buyer interested in the space.

“This person has a lot of experience and a good track record in transforming big boxes,” she said. “We’re not sure what exactly is planned, it may be one or it may be many new tenants going in there, but he’s said he’s hoping for a quick escrow.”

Located off Highway 198 near 12th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard, the Hanford Mall is the only regional shopping mall in Kings County and primarily draws local shoppers within the city’s 20-mile sphere of influence.

In recent years, the neighborhood has seen increased growth, including the addition of several new shopping complexes and the recent unveiling of the new county courthouse across the street.

That rapid growth has previously drawn criticism from the city’s downtown advocates, with some in the community saying the development activity along the city’s west side could be a detriment to Hanford’s east side business scene.

“For many years, a lot of energy and infrastructure investment went into West Lacey Boulevard and 12th Avenue and that caused some frustration,” Pyle said. “We’ve made a conscious effort to enhance the east side and the new 58-acre Costco project [near Highways 198 and 43] will help balance us out.”

Pyle said he thinks the city can support both districts and is currently working with the chamber, downtown advocacy group Main Street Hanford and the Kings Area Rural Transit (KART) group to develop a bus route looping through all three areas.

KART is currently in the process of purchasing the vehicles and the new route is expected to debut in time for the holiday shopping season this December, he said.

“We don’t want to be the bottleneck in allowing development to take place in Hanford,” Pyle said. “[With the bus route] we’re making it convenient to shop, dine and spend time in downtown while also getting to the hospital or other key areas on the west and east sides of town.”

All three districts have their own niche and Doerter said the new development shouldn’t mean residents turn away from older areas.

“There’s a different feel to the two environments [of downtown and the mall] and we recognize that,” she said. “The last thing we all want to do is force our customers to drive out of Hanford. Rather than lose them, we would like to see them come into Hanford however they can.”

Galusha agreed and said the city should embrace the new chains coming into the region since they help boost Hanford’s overall economy.

“It’s trickle down economics. When people drive to Visalia it’s not just Buffalo Wild Wings they’re stopping at,” he said. “They may need to fill up on gas so they stop at a station there, or they go into a shop because they’re already out that way. Having more options in Hanford will only help keep that money here.”

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