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Hopes for Mall Fizzle as Big Tenants Stay Out of Picture

January 25, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — The rich promise of the Golden Triangle has tarnished a bit.

The prime, three-sided plot of vacant land in the heart of the city has drawn little interest from major retailers, who are being wooed to anchor a high-fashion mall on the site. Without a commitment from a top-flight department store, city officials say that plans for a $95-million regional mall on the Towne Center site are in trouble.

General Growth of California, a Canoga Park-based mall builder, has spent 18 months trying to line up at least two major stores for the mall on the north side of the 125-acre parcel along Bloomfield Avenue near Artesia Boulevard. But the only taker, city officials say, was Meryvn's department store, which has since passed on the Towne Center project and will open this spring across town in the empty Ohrbach's building in the Los Cerritos Center.

Reasons vary for the lack of interest in the Towne Center mall proposal, but retail experts agree: Southern California is saturated with large, enclosed malls, and there is little room on the shopping landscape for a new one. Experts also say a rash of mergers and store closings among several of the big chains has discouraged many retailers from committing to new mall projects, like the Towne Center in Cerritos.

As a result, a second regional mall in the city is in doubt.

"(The council) has to come to grips with the realities of today's market," Councilman Barry A. Rabbitt said. "It seems to me that we have exhausted all the potential avenues and we must now look at other options."

Sentiment for New Developer

A majority of City Council members agree that it may be time to look at alternative uses for the property with a different developer. In recent interviews, several council members suggested a mix of retail, high-density residential uses and even some sort of international market with shops selling goods from around the world to lure the area's large ethnic population as well as draw tourists to the city.

Whatever the council decides will get close scrutiny. Those living near the Towne Center site organized for the first time last fall, complaining about its scope and appropriateness in a suburb of 55,000 people. And some residents say they will register their dissatisfaction at the ballot box if they are overlooked in the decision-making process.

The failure to attract an acceptable mix of stores for a new mall has cast a shadow over the entire $225-million Towne Center project, an undertaking that some have described as the crowning act in Cerritos' rapid rise from a dairy town to wealthy suburb in less than two decades.

Since the early 1970s, the city has looked upon the 125 acres--bounded by Bloomfield Avenue, 183rd Street and the Artesia Freeway--as the site of its long-sought downtown and the key to a financially secure future.

The council has already approved plans for a 400-room hotel, 1,800-seat community center and 1.2 million square feet of office space on the property across from City Hall. Ground breaking on the hotel and the first seven-story building will be this summer, if all goes well.

The icing on the Towne Center project was to be an upscale regional shopping mall anchored by several pricey department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue or I. Magnin. But progress on the mall has been anything but sweet, and some members of the council believe it is time to sever ties with General Growth, one of the nation's largest mall builders. Said Councilwoman Diana Needham: " . . . Unless they have surprising news, our relationship is over."

The council has given General Growth, which has been working on the Towne Center project since the summer of 1985, several extensions on its agreement to deliver a mall proposal. But the council has grown impatient, and officials say General Growth's future may be decided by the end of February.

John Bucksbaum, president of General Growth, said part of his problem has been the timing of the project.

"Twenty years ago, this city could have had its pick of retailers, but not today," he said. "I think the situation is self-evident. Here is 125 acres in a wonderful location and there has not been a stampede to get in. . . ."

Maurice Robinson, manager of real estate consulting services for the accounting firm of Pannell, Kerr, Forster, agreed that the boom days of mall building are over. "The 1970s was a phenomenal time to build malls," he said. "The population was spreading out and malls were in vogue. . . . All a developer had to do was draw a circle of a million people and drop a regional mall into it. But today it's a different game, and it's hard to envision a second mall in Cerritos."

Reluctant to Take Chance

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