Everett Mall, other properties face a renter’s market

EVERETT — Inside a nearly empty space in Everett Mall, a single mom envisions a minigolf course with nine holes, fresh foliage and, most important, plenty of customers.

On Monday, Ximena Rajala waited patiently for the pieces of her new Everett MiniGolf Adventures to arrive. The shop, which opens in August, is near Regal Cinema in the mall. Remnants of the former Dig It store, where children could dig for dinosaur fossils, will be incorporated in the golf course.

“This is my new adventure,” Rajala said.

For the Snohomish resident, the minigolf attraction will be her first business. A native of Chile, Rajala left her career as a metallurgical engineer when she moved to the Puget Sound region nearly a decade ago.

The opening of the minigolf course comes as the main owner of Everett Mall faces financial uncertainty.

In March, California-based Steadfast Commercial Properties, which owns about two-thirds of the mall, defaulted on a $98 million loan. The lender, Royal Bank of Canada, put a foreclosure notice in The Herald in mid-June and again last week. Last week, a spokeswoman for Steadfast Commercial said the company was continuing to talk with the lender.

Rajala said she was unaware of Steadfast’s financial woes when she signed the lease. However, the mother of four isn’t too concerned. If another company buys the mall, it could make improvements and help the mall attract new tenants like herself. If things go sour, Rajala said, she could just move her minigolf course to a new location in the county.

Rajala would have plenty of spots to choose from, according to a recent report by commercial investment firm Kidder Mathews. The report indicates the county has roughly two million square feet of vacant retail space. Snohomish County’s commercial vacancy rate is at about 5.8 percent, about the same as the rest of the Puget Sound region. Across the country, the retail vacancy rate average was about 11.7 percent in the second quarter, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors, published in May.

Here in Snohomish County, the vacancy rate is up from a pre-recession low of about 3.9 percent in mid-2008, when there were fewer than 1.3 million square feet of retail space available to buy or lease.

Few retailers have built new stores over the past several years, given the amount of available space. However, outdoor retailer Cabela’s opened a new store earlier this year at Tulalip.

Around the Puget Sound region, new developments included those with a “dominant food store” to anchor the center, according to the Kidder Mathews report. Examples include Maple Valley Town Square, which has a Fred Meyer, and Grand Ridge Plaza in Issaquah, which will have a Safeway.

In Snohomish County, a new Whole Foods opened earlier this year in the former Circuit City building in Lynnwood. Yet the county has several large retail spaces that were grocers, including the Food Pavilion store in Arlington, the former Olson’s Market at Speedway Center and the TOP Food store across from Everett Mall. Other large retail spaces that are vacant include the former Gottschalks at Marysville Town Center and the former Bally’s at Cascade Plaza in Everett, noted Andy Robinson, a senior vice president at Kidder Mathews.

Everett MiniGolf Adventures owner Rajala said she considered other spots in the county, including the Alderwood mall in Lynnwood. Alderwood didn’t return her phone calls, Rajala said. She sees Everett Mall as more friendly to small local businesses.

As with Everett Mall, an owner of Alderwood has faced financial troubles. In 2009, General Growth Properties filed for bankruptcy protection. Since then, the company has sold off some of its shopping center properties, refinanced loans for others and purchased the anchor slots for 11 Sears stores as that national retailer continues to struggle. Alderwood has added stores like American Girl, Lego and Maurices, which are marketed to pre-teens and young adults.

Aside from its movie theater, Everett Mall doesn’t offer many entertainment options for preteens and teens.

“I was looking for ways to entertain my son, who’s 10,” Rajala said. “I didn’t want to do an arcade.”

Rajala thinks her minigolf course could fit a missing niche at the mall. And it’s also one of only a few courses in the area.

Everett MiniGolf Adventures will charge $6 for a round of golf and will host birthday parties and special events. The business will employ four people when it opens next month.

Meanwhile, the foreclosure game between Steadfast and its bank continues on a private course. Steadfast owes more than $8 million in past-due interest, charges and fees.

The company spokeswoman said it has a long-term plan for Everett Mall, which it bought in 2004 — after the mall’s previous owner went into foreclosure and turned the property over to another lender.

In foreclosure legal notices published in The Herald, Steadfast’s lender declared an intent to sell the deed to Steadfast’s portion of Everett Mall to the highest bidder on the Snohomish County Courthouse steps.

At the appointed hour last Friday, Seattle attorney David Neu, who serves as trustee for the loan, was indeed present, standing under an umbrella as rain pelted would-be buyers of foreclosed properties. However, Neu said he was not there to sell the mall. He said the sale was postponed — at least until today.

With talks continuing between Steadfast and the lender, the sale could be pushed back or canceled.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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