Twin City Town Center continues growth spurt


The Centralia-Chehalis airport keeps growing and growing and growing.

According to a 2001 study commissioned by the airport board, $55 million in sales, 241 jobs and $664,000 in taxes for the city of Chehalis were generated. Since then the number of businesses has increased.

On 15 acres, 62,000 square feet of business space was constructed in the first phase of the shopping area with another 30,000 just being completed to the south. Among the businesses scheduled to open in the next month or so are Wendy's, Taco Del Mar, and Harry Ritchie Jewelers. Security State Bank plans to open a branch there.

By the end of the year Harold LeFrandt, leasing agent for CCA Retail which manages the property for the airport board, anticipates another 45,000 square feet of business space to be constructed. Of that, 10,000 will go for a Northwest Crafts store, which should be open before Christmas, and a smaller amount for a Schuck's Auto parts and other smaller retailers.

CCA also plans to make space available for smaller and local retailers, something of a change from its emphasis on chain operations who were willing to commit to leasing space before it was built.

"It wasn't that we weren't willing to work with local players," said LeFrandt. "The demand was so strong from national and strong regional retailers that by the time local retailers got interested, there wasn't anything left."

In the next wave, CCA plans to have spaces available as small as 500 square feet ranging up to 5,000 square feet. The long-term plan is to build out the remaining 60 acres, perhaps in the next five years, estimates LeFrandt. A portion of that, tentatively located behind a planned Home Depot, would be reserved for light industrial development.

Essential to future development is infrastructure improvement, particularly roads.

A Home Depot, to be constructed on 10 acres north of Wal-Mart, along with Applebee's and other retailers depends on a plan to extend Louisiana Avenue on the north so it connects with Airport Way and heads north to the Interstate 5 exit at Mellen Street.

"Until we're able to extend Louisiana, we're on hold," said LeFrandt.

In Centralia, the city council was initially concerned when they found out about a proposal to connect Louisiana Avenue to Mellen Street, said counselor Ted Shannon, who represents the council at the Regional Transportation Commission. The Louisiana extension would presumably bring a lot more traffic through the Mellen Street underpass at I-5 exit 81.

To handle increased traffic flow, the Regional Transportation Commission has come up with a plan to widen the underpass to four lanes from its current two. While the plan is not definite, Shannon believes it is definitely "on the horizon."

"We're taking lemons and making lemonade," said Shannon. "An alternative route would be a great benefit to the area."

As for the increased number of businesses in the town to the south, Shannon is philosophical.

"Chehalis has freeway access and ground available for this kind of development," said Shannon. "We don't have the area to do this kind of development. I don't see that there is a significant impact on Centralia's economy."

Meanwhile, Chehalis Public Works Director Jim Nichols is a bit like a rock star on tour, going from meeting to meeting to discuss constructing roundabouts on Chamber Way to improve traffic flow. The estimated $4.7 million dollar project would be for five roundabouts located at National Avenue, State Street, the on and off ramps from I-5 and Louisiana Avenue. The roundabouts are an interim solution, intended for the next 10 to 15 years or until money becomes available to widen Chamber Way bridge.

"In general I've gotten a lot of favorable and optimistic views from people I've talked to about roundabouts," said Nichols.

On the portion of the airport still dedicated to aviation, a number of improvements are planned thanks to money gained by leasing. Over the next two years, the airport board plans to spend a little more than $3.6 million to build a new access road, extend utilities, construct two new 10 bay hanger buildings, a new airport office building, a pilot lounge to file flight plans and get weather information, a weather reporting system for approaching and departing the airport and an instrument approach including an approach light system. The engineering work is complete. Construction is scheduled to start in August, according to airport administrator Jerry Otto.

Mark Lawton covers economic and energy issues for The Chronicle. He may be reached at 807-8231, or by e-mail at