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Replacement of Aging Anaheim Plaza Urged : Redevelopment: Property manager suggests a combination of residential and business uses to replace the 37-year-old center.


ANAHEIM — The company managing Anaheim Plaza will give to the city next week a controversial proposal to tear down or remodel the 37-year-old shopping center to accommodate a combination residential and business complex, the company's executive vice president said Tuesday.

Bruce Macleod, vice president of the O'Connor Group, said the Brea Mall, MainPlace/Santa Ana and South Coast Plaza have lured away Anaheim Plaza's strongest retailers and its customers over the past seven years and there is little chance the county's oldest mall can again be competitive in its present form.

"A slow, steady decline began when Robinson's left ( for MainPlace in 1987) . . . and it will be hard to stop," Macleod said. His New York-based company was hired in 1990 to manage the property for its owner, the State Teachers Retirement System, which purchased the plaza in 1984 for $33.5 million.

Robinson's former location remains vacant, and the parent company of the Broadway, another of the plaza's three anchor stores, has filed for bankruptcy protection, which makes reviving the plaza difficult, Macleod said.

"Strong national retailers such as The Gap and Foot Locker, they want to be in malls that have strong department stores," he said. "Anaheim Plaza doesn't have that anymore and won't because of the way the market in Orange County has changed."

O'Connor's proposal, which has almost no specifics, will be presented to the city's Redevelopment Agency for initial consideration next week. The plaza is in a redevelopment zone, so any changes would have to be approved by the City Council. Three of the five members said Tuesday they would likely oppose any drastic changes to the plaza.

No timetable for developing the new proposal has been set, Macleod said. The announcement comes one week after several councilmen criticized the retirement system's ownership of the the plaza and two, Irv Pickler and Tom Daly, threatened to use the agency's eminent domain powers to forcibly buy the property.

Daly said Tuesday he would support only very limited, "high-quality" residential development on the plaza's perimeter, while Pickler said he would oppose building any homes.

"(O'Connor's) proposal is a bunch of hogwash," Pickler said. "We need to develop something over there that Anaheim can be proud of and O'Connor and (the pension fund) should stop wasting our time."

But Mayor Fred Hunter, also a frequent critic of the retirement system's ownership performance, said he would like to see the plaza rejuvenated but said O'Connor is a reputable firm and maybe it is time for the city to accept that the plaza's time has past.

"They are the brains in this area and I'm not and I am sure they have looked at the demographics," he said. "We do have a pent-up need for more housing."

But community reaction to the proposal might be negative.

Two weeks ago, 350 residents who live near the plaza attended a meeting organized by the Residents for Anaheim Plaza, a local support group, at the mall to demand that the shopping center be improved and saved.

"Frankly, we have suspected that (the retirement system) has long wanted to run the plaza into the ground, say it's no longer viable as a shopping center and then sell it to a developer for homes," Lew Overholt, a former councilman and leader of the group, said. "Well, it's good that they have at least dropped their mask and have revealed what their plans are. But we are definitely opposed."

The plaza, built in 1955, had its best year in 1986, two years after the retirement system bought it. Taxable sales that year were $84 million, according to the State Board of Equalization. By 1990, the last year for which figures are available, taxable sales had fallen by almost 40%, to $51 million.

Of the plaza's 71 stores, 30 are currently vacant.

Macleod said details of the proposed retail-housing community have yet to be worked out but said one possibility would be to lure such low-price retailers as Wal-Mart and Marshalls to the site. He said Mervyn's, a low-price department store and the plaza's third anchor store, has been the center's one successful large-scale tenant and would be asked to stay.

Teri Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Mervyn's, said the company wants to stay in Anaheim and is willing to consider any changes O'Connor or the retirement system might propose.

Macleod said planning of the residential community would be turned over to a developer, who has not been selected, and it has not been determined if houses, apartments, condominiums or a mixture would be built on the site.

Councilman Bob D. Simpson, who also said he would likely oppose a residential development at the plaza, said that five years ago, when he was Anaheim's city manager, a developer suggested that the plaza be razed for a proposal similar to O'Connor's, but it was rejected because the developer wanted to put in too many homes and not enough businesses.

John Machiavera, owner of J. Mac Jewelers, a 20-year plaza tenant, disagreed with O'Connor's assessment that the plaza is no longer viable and said the center could be saved.

Machiavera, who was president of the merchants association until it recently disbanded because few stores could afford the dues, said the retirement system should offer 10 years' free rent on a 50-year lease to a major retailer willing to replace Robinson's.

"The owners are going to have to give up something if they want to get the plaza going, but I don't think they want to," he said.

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