Visalia native Marc Dwelle buys burned-out block that destroyed six businesses in 2018, plans to build new restaurant and retail locations
By John Lindt
Sierra2theSea News Service
VISALIA – Marc Dwelle grew up skating the streets of downtown Visalia. He remembers listening to punk music as he skateboarded passed the endless window displays and beneath the signs lighting up the landscape after dusk in the bustling business district. When many of his friends fled to the Bay Area and L.A. for more vibrant nightlife, Dwelle moved home in the mid 1990s as an entrepreneur looking to reinvest in his community.
The 47 year-old Dwelle, his brother Brett and a cadre of other young entrepreneurs are busy building the next chapter in and around downtown.
“Visalia has done a good job keeping the core of the city strong but now it’s going through a transformation,” Dwelle said.
After years of building up his Speedy Enterprises, with car wash locations on Mooney Boulevard and another on Ben Maddox, Dwelle has turned his attention to downtown. In the fall of 2018, Dwelle bought Ralph Bookout’s 101 W. Main Street building, once home to the old Security Pacific Bank, last January and reopened the Cellar Door nightclub on the ground floor. Now he is both property owner and operator of the popular music venue. He, Arron Gomes and others bring big name bands to Visalia on a regular basis – tapping into a West Coast circuit with a stopover here. They operate under the banner of Sound n Vision – an art and culture foundation committed to enriching the Central Valley through art and live music events.
Dwelle’s most recent purchase was buying Ralph Bookout’s vacant, burned-out property in the 200 block of West Main Street. A massive fire destroyed three buildings across from the Visalia Fox Theater the day after Christmas in 2018 and the site has been boarded up since. It’s been a gloomy reminder that the downtown will need new investment if it is to continue to thrive and remain that “Jewel of the Valley” people rave about.
The blaze was a major blow to locals and left a huge void in the downtown. The three-alarm fire damaged six local businesses with one, Cafe 225, permanently closing its doors. At the height of the fire, there were nine fire engines, three ladder trucks fighting the midnight inferno. Now all that is left is a plywood wall.
At the time, Visalia mayor Bob Link said “[the fire] will not affect downtown. There’s no doubt in my mind that the property will be demolished with probably something even nicer to replace it.”
As if heeding the words of the former owner of Link’s Menswear, a former downtown fixture, Dwelle is now busy organizing a team to decide details of what could be a four-story residential identical, commercial and office complex. Dwelle expects it will be a good fit for downtown designed to accommodate nearly 40,000 square feet depending on how many stories are built.
As if to put an exclamation point on the idea, the Downtown Visalians have lobbied the city to allow them to erect a Visalia mural on the boarded-up wall to be painted in coming weeks. Here is what it will look like. The City Council approved the request at its Jan. 6 meeting.
Dwelle note there are some key logistics he expects to take advantage of as he tackles this ambitious project. First, its location across from the historic Visalia Fox Theatre is huge plus. Then there is its proximity to both the existing and planned Kaweah Delta towers and a major parking structure directly behind the site. Dwelle said he would likely tie into the parking garage with a pedestrian bridge for tenant and customer access. On the ground floor he expects to line up two retail or restaurant tenants. As for medical suites he says he has had some preliminary discussions along those lines.
“We’ve been working on this for just about a month so its early to offer any specifics,” Dwelle said.
Despite the big plans, Dwelle wants to ensure downtown doesn’t lose “the vibe that got it here.”
“We don’t want to lose more of the Mom and Pop businesses we love to see.”
Dwelle is not alone in his plan to invest in Downtown. He said he admires JR Shannon’s work to launch businesses that cater to younger Visalians along East Main and elsewhere. He is also watching Matt Ainley’s Darling Hotel on Court Street to open later this year with a rooftop lounge overlooking the city center.