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Future looks bright for Cottonwood Plaza

October 11, 2011

The Cottonwood Plaza in Bishop has new owners and, hopefully, there will be new tenants coming soon as well. An illness among a family members of the new owners has slowed progress, but, according to the architect, it will not stall. Photo by Mike Bodine

Townsfolk and business people in Bishop and beyond have been chomping at the bit to learn the fate of Cottonwood Plaza. And, due to circumstances outside anyone’s control, what is to become of the plaza will have to be put on hold a little longer.
There are new owners of the property and the buildings, Ray and Lis Eslamiyeh of Southern California. Tom Schaniel of TSchaniel Architecture of Bishop has been putting together plans to refurbish the infrastructure of the buildings – fire suppression, electrical and plumbing – with more landscaping and exterior work to be done as well.
Simply put, the buildings are going to stay. However, a family illness is thwarting progress and has become, obviously, the priority with the Eslamiyehs right now. Schaniel said on Monday that the family is working on the plaza, but the work is slow.
There are plans to re-name the plaza, too. Dee Younger, owner of Mountain Apparel, and all-around advocate for a prosperous community, said he would like to have a contest to re-name the plaza.
Schaniel explained there were, as of yet, no tenants lined up, but there are many interests. He said he could not speak to any rumors that an El Pollo Loco restaurant will be moving into the former Burger King location but did say the building will house a restaurant or food establishment of some kind – a restaurant “shell.”
Schaniel explained there will not be another eatery located upstairs for a variety of reasons.
He added that, for the most part, the buildings and separate offices will remain shells able to suit the whim of a tenant. Schaniel added what will not remain the same is the infrastructure.
The first thing to be upgraded and brought to code will be the fire suppression system, Schaniel said, as will the water and electrical systems. He added that the rumors of many different businesses being tied into one electrical meter are true and hopes to clear up that problem for future tenants. He said the electrical work was antiquated in 1978 when it was first installed.
As was the case in the past, the new owners hope the plaza will be a popular spot with tourists and buses, Schaniel said for the Eslamiyehs.
The plaza has been empty since the start of 2009 and progress on leases, ownership and other factors has been slow so had a clean bill of health from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board from possible ground contamination in April 2011. The corner of North Main and West Yaney was the site of a fueling station in 1974.
The plaza was built in 1978, a joint venture between Dwayne Wilson of Dwayne’s Friendly Pharmacy, and business partners Mert Wiedmann and Leland Bell of Shafter,
The first floor of the west building was once the site of a Thrifty Drug Store, where Wilson was the pharmacist, but has remained mostly vacant with boarded windows since 1999.
The modern story of the plaza started in June 2008.
A sub-lease between the ground lessee, Charles Caldwell, represented by Kearsarge Investments, and the building lessee, Richard Maudsley, expired in June 2008 and control of the buildings and property went back into the hands of Caldwell.
Kearsarge leased the land from Robert Crosby, and then Kearsarge sub-leased to Maudsley. When Maudsley’s lease ran out, Kearsarge regained control. It was at this time that Kearsarge filed suits of “unlawful detainer,” or eviction action, against the remaining tenants.
The once thriving commercial center was vacated, some former tenants would say forcefully, on or around Jan. 1, 2009. Burger King closed unexpectedly to many employees and patrons on Christmas Day 2008. Some businesses moved, some went under and then a fence was erected around the property and windows boarded up. The plaza was, and still is a giant vacant lot across the street from another vacant lot, former home of a fueling station and catty-corner from the old Kmart building that has been vacant for years. (The former Kmart building, owned by Safeway/Vons Company has been advertised for sale with a note on the flyer published on that the building has been held vacant on purpose to keep competition, namely another supermarket chain, at bay.)
It seemed that Cottonwood Plaza’s vacancy would make the final point of Bishop’s Bermuda Triangle of business.
Many citizen’s cried “Blight!” and demanded city government do something about the eyesore that had become a garden of weeds in the middle of town. City and county leaders said their hands were basically tied and that as long as the property was not breaking any municipal laws there was not much that could be done.
Chuck Kilpatrick of the advocacy group Bringing Businesses to Bishop has said that he felt the town was being “held hostage” by building and land owners who live out of town – people with little to no vested interest in the community other than as a profit stream.
In January 2009, Maudsley said that per a stipulation in the lease contract, he was being forced to demolish the buildings. In July, property owner Crosby acquired possession of the buildings. Crosby said that he was opposed to razing the buildings. However, application papers to remove the buildings, filed by Maudsley, were not stopped by Crosby.
In October, a potential buyer had told the plaza’s real estate agent, Stan Smith that in the current economy, it would be financially prudent to refurbish rather than remove the buildings.
The plaza collected dust and weeds behind a chain link fence with only the occasional tidbit of news about what fate held in store for the plaza. In June 2010, the Eslamiyehs began looking, seriously, at the plaza.
The results from Lahontan took many months and was to blame for delays in moving forward at the plaza for the Eslamiyehs. Once the results came back from Lahontan, the family illness struck.
The progress on the plaza will move along, Shaniel said, slowly, but it will not stall.

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