Four new buildings planned for Birch Bay Square
The small train that once ran around the former factory outlet mall at I-5 exit 270, where Birch Bay-Lynden Road crosses the freeway, is gone, sold to a zoo somewhere in Canada, and the big white awnings that cover the plaza at the south end of the property are coming down soon, according to Jared Ware who, with his father and brothers, is turning the former mall into Birch Bay Square.
More changes are on the way, he said, as construction gets under way on some major additions and is completed on others, and in the process the place is getting a major face-lift. “It’s no more sawhorses and plywood tables,” said Ware as he pointed out initial construction on four stand-alone buildings for Windermere Real Estate, Bob’s Burgers and Brew, Starbucks Coffee and an as yet unnamed bank. A fast food outlet Ware declined to identify is also planning to build at the north end of the 24-acre property later this year.
Ware said that one of the biggest changes will be the access provided by store fronts and entrances on the access drive-through entries and on the outside of the J-shaped arc of buildings. “They didn’t exactly show a friendly face to people driving by,” he said, “but they will now.”
“We’re dividing up the bays into smaller units to provide more retail spaces. People can already see this at the north end of the square property on the parts that face Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Peace Portal,” said Ware.
That area is home to one of the mall’s anchors, a roughly 25,000 square foot grocery store to be called Scott’s Market Fresh that owners hope to be opening sometime this summer. Changes in storage areas and some interior details have delayed the store’s permitting process. Realtor Mike Kent said that there have also been significant delays to permitting Windermere’s new building at the south end of the mall due to the sheer volume of construction going on in the county. “We anticipated having to wait a couple of months,” Kent said, “but it will end up being more like 11.”
Rumored water and sewage problems are not a factor in the timing of the projects, Ware said, “since we have our own well to the north, a second on-site reservoir planned to boost storage to 200,000 gallons and our own septic system since we’re well outside the area served by any of the municipalities.”
Scott’s is modeled to an extent on the up-scale Mediterranean Market chain in California, and will have an inside restaurant serving wood-fired pizza, an outdoor eating area heated by a fireplace and a drive-up window where people can pick up phoned-in orders for groceries. “They’ll also have an extensive wine selection,” Ware said, “to help boost Canadian traffic.”
Mary O’Connor, manager of Vitamin World, a store that plans to stay in the mall, said that as construction has proceeded her business has increased 20 percent or more. “Last year on this date we had 277 customers, and today [at 3 p.m.] we’re already at 316,” she said, “and that’s been consistent for some time. It’s the first convenient stop for southbound traffic past the border and the last one for people headed north.”
Ware said that he’ll end up with less than a 50 percent turnover in stores as businesses are being asked to upgrade their spaces to fit in with the new design. “Except for Christ the King church, everyone who’s here now will stay,” he said. Future plans include developing the north end of the property, now being cleared and graded, and adding a hotel.