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WESTWOOD : Developer Agrees to Buy, Revitalize Ailing Waterfront Shopping Mall

August 21, 1994|JOHN CANALIS JOHN CANALIS..BD: SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Westwood-based developer has agreed to purchase a troubled mall in Long Beach and plans to fill its empty spaces with well-known retailers, officials said.

Managers of the Trident Group said they will spend about $20 million remodeling the waterfront Marina Pacifica Mall on Pacific Coast Highway near 2nd Street. The near-vacant mall is known for its dark, maze-like lower level and empty storefronts.

The remodeled facility will include larger and fewer shops with most entrances at street level, said Chris Ellis, a Trident partner. A new Ralphs supermarket and a Barnes & Noble bookstore will anchor the mall, along with longtime tenants such as the AMC Theaters complex and Trader Joe's, he said. Some of the existing tenants may move to larger facilities in the center, he said.

Ellis said he hopes to place six national retail outlets alongside about 15 smaller shops catering to upscale residents in the Naples and Belmont Shore areas of Long Beach.

"The remodeling will stress simplicity," Ellis said. "The original design may have worked at the center's inception, but in the end it did not work."

Ellis would not reveal how much his firm paid for the 290,000-square-foot property. Remodeling should begin early next year after nontoxic oil deposits beneath the mall are removed, Ellis said. The expanded facility is expected to open in the fall of 1995.

The Koll Co. in Newport Beach has managed the mall for Bank of America since 1992. Connie W. Hahn, Koll's manager at the mall, said about four buyers have withdrawn from deals to purchase the property since Bank of America acquired it during a 1989 foreclosure. The mall has had several owners since it was built in 1976.

Marina Pacifica is currently 28% occupied, Hahn said, adding that the site has room for about 100 shops. Although the center once thrived, "there has never been 100% occupancy," Hahn said.

Several major tenants have departed in recent years.

Bogart's, the city's main venue for alternative rock music, closed last year. Houlihan's, a large restaurant and bar overlooking the marina, shut down in 1992. Buffums, the mall's only department store, closed when the rest of the chain went out of business in 1991.

"It was already deteriorating when Buffums left," said Trent Esperti, who owns Barwinkles nightclub.

Esperti said Trident will make the mall work. "They are the first to promise new money, construction and anchor stores," he said.

One longtime business owner said she is waiting for the mall to fulfill its potential.

"It has been grossly mismanaged throughout the years," said Irene Pursch, owner of the Coffee Trader, an 18-year tenant on the mall's lower level. The previous managers and owners have failed to attract tourists and exploit the mall's beautiful view and location, she said.

Pursch said she hopes the developers will make room for her. The Coffee Trader is on a month-to-month lease. "I have hung on in hopes that someone would come in and do something with the place because it has always been a great place to be," she said.

The developer is betting on the lure of the more popular existing tenants plus well-known national retailers to revitalize the center.

"Retailing has changed in the last 10 years," Ellis said. "We would love to have some smaller tenants, but you need the major anchors to support the mom-and-pop places."

Trident also developed Beverly Connection across from the Beverly Center on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Long Beach city officials said they are excited about the Marina Pacifica development. The city helped mediate some of the negotiations between Trident and Bank of America but does not have a financial stake in the development beyond future sales tax revenue, said Susan F. Shick, the city's director of community redevelopment.

Competition for business near the mall is plentiful. The Ralphs store will have to vie with a Lucky supermarket adjacent to the property. Another Ralphs market is in the Bixby Village Plaza about a mile away at Pacific Coast Highway and Bellflower Boulevard.

"Ralphs feels that they can support another store in that area," said Ron Wood, a leasing agent with Santa Monica-based Epsteen & Associates, which is marketing Marina Pacifica for Trident. ". . . I know they agreed without hesitation."

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