One concern is the closure of HomeBase could create an image of blight in the southeastern section of El Centro — an area visible from Interstate 8 that people traveling through the Imperial Valley can easily see. We hate to think of that storefront returning to what it was when the building was a vacant shell covered with graffiti.
It is hard to imagine a shopping center on Imperial Avenue — the main route through El Centro and a link between the southern and northern sections of the county — with two large vacant buildings, but that will be the case because of corporate financial problems with both Office Depot and Heilig-Meyers.
While Imperial Avenue may not be the heart of El Centro — many would argue downtown is that heart — no one could doubt Imperial Avenue is the city's key artery. Imagine what people traveling through the city are going to think when they see a shopping center with its two anchors vacant. Already, Heilig-Meyers has become an encampment for the homeless. Office Depot may soon be the same.
The Office Depot and Heilig-Meyers stores and the HomeBase site are prime business spots. The right businesses in those locations would succeed. The Valley can and will support good businesses, and with thousands of shoppers here each day from Mexicali, there is every reason to think population studies would prove appropriate businesses can thrive in such locations.
The question is what is the right business? In the Imperial Valley we seem to get a lot of repeat businesses. Office Depot is a prime example. First, Staples opened and did good business. Then, some Office Depot executives had the bright idea of opening a store just a mile or so from Staples on the same roadway. With those kind of corporate leaders, it is no wonder that Office Depot is facing a financial crunch.
Still, El Centro must push forward with a strong marketing effort to fill its anchor-store vacancies. We would hope El Centro would not have to do so alone. The county's joint chambers of commerce, the county government, the Imperial Irrigation District and private economic development groups need to work together because the entire Valley benefits whenever and wherever large anchor stores move into the area.
And we have three prime sites that need filling.