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Birth of a Mall : Ballyhoo Marks a Long-Awaited Groundbreaking in Santa Clarita

September 13, 1991|TRACEY KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Guests were showered with free goodies--including a carwash voucher for those who parked in a dusty lot--serenaded by a wandering mariachi band and tempted by 2,200 tiny mushroom-pepper quiches.

Even the portable toilet stalls had mirrors and carpeting.

Santa Clarita--the suburb without a mall, the city where a top goal is to bring a Nordstrom to town--broke ground with style Thursday on its $80-million Valencia Town Center, which will open in fall, 1992, after years of negotiations with developers and department stores.

No Nordstrom, though. The department store wants to make sure that the mall is financially successful before committing to a Santa Clarita store.

It cost the developers, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. and JMB Retail Properties Co., about $20,000 to impress the guests.

"The community has waited so long for the mall that we wanted to do this right," said Marlee Lauffer, a spokeswoman for Newhall Land.

In addition to the coupons for a free carwash, the 500 in attendance each received a small crate of oranges and a shopping bag. Although there are no orange groves in Valencia, the mall logo features a crate of Valencia oranges. For event mementos, guests were photographed "breaking ground" with an old plow.

As the mariachis rang out a rendition of "El Rancho Grande," a small plane circled the 80-acre site for an hour, trailing a banner that read "Viva Valencia Town Center."

Some of the developers' female employees wore red dresses in keeping with the red, white and green fiesta decor inside the white tent.

"This is so exciting," said Laurene Weste, a member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, as she sipped a nonalcoholic orange juice-and-grenadine drink that waiters called a Valencia Sunrise. "Now, I won't have to listen to teen-agers complaining they have nothing to do because they'll be at the mall."

Teen-agers are not the only Santa Clarita residents clamoring for a regional shopping center. Asked earlier this year to list the city's top goals, a group of 100 residents and officials said bringing Nordstrom to town was more important than school overcrowding and air quality.

But when it opens next fall, the mall will contain nine movie theaters, a food court, 110 shops and three department stores--May Co., J.C. Penney, and Sears & Roebuck Co. Officials of Nordstrom told Newhall Land that the department store will wait to see how the mall does before opening a branch there, said Newhall Land Chairman Thomas L. Lee.

Local residents now spend about $100 million outside the city annually, primarily at the Glendale Galleria and the Northridge Fashion Center, Lee said. To entice developers, the Santa Clarita City Council will issue bonds to pay for nearly $10 million in road improvements around the mall. In return, the city expects to collect an estimated $137 million in sales taxes from the mall over 30 years.

Joan Sheets, president of the Stratford Collection, a 211-unit housing tract in Valencia, attended the groundbreaking party but admitted she will still drive to the San Fernando Valley to shop.

"This is a nice start," Sheets said, "but we need some upscale department stores."

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