IRVINE — The Irvine Co. on Monday unveiled plans to double the size of the popular Irvine Entertainment Center, and to eventually link the massive complex with a proposed regional shopping mall at the convergence of the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways.
Construction on the 250,000 square-foot addition, which would be located adjacent to the 21-screen Edwards Theatres cineplex, is scheduled to begin early in 1997 and be completed in time for the holiday season.
The Irvine Co. had planned to expand the cutting-edge entertainment center during 1998, but the timetable was advanced when retail, entertainment and restaurant tenants reported stronger-than-anticipated sales volume.
"We thought it was going to grow somewhat slower," said Rick Evans, president of the Irvine Co.'s retail division. "But, in terms of sales volume, we're at the level we predicted for when the center was five years old."
Since opening on Nov. 22, 1995, the center has drawn nearly 4 million visitors, according to the Irvine Co. The addition's architecture will expand upon the existing center's Moroccan village theme.
The center is dominated by a 21-screen Edwards cineplex with a huge 3-D Imax screen. Newport Beach-based Edwards has described the Irvine cineplex as the highest-grossing theater complex in the West and one of the nation's three top-grossing cineplexes.
The entertainment center also includes several trendy eateries, a Sega City electronic game center and several retail shops, including a huge Barnes & Noble bookstore.
No movie screens will be added when the center is expanded, and only a few eateries will be added at the center that's already home to Bertollini's Trattoria, Champps America, Wolfgang Puck Cafe and P.F. Chang's China Bistro.
Most of the 250,000-square-foot addition will be filled by "entertainment outlets and retailers who are entertaining and fun," Evans said. "There are a whole group of those types of retailers out there."
When the center opened just under a year ago, market research showed that most visitors were coming from Orange County. But this past summer, Evans said, "we found that we're getting customers from 127 different ZIP codes, stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles County."
The Irvine Co. eventually will use the entertainment center as an anchor for a huge regional mall to be built near the so-called El Toro Y. Evans on Monday declined to discuss further development at the center: "This step is a big step for us and right now we're concentrating on just getting it done. But with each expansion, we are looking toward the direction of a regional mall."
The expansion announced on Monday is the latest in a string of proposals for entertainment-oriented retail projects in Orange County.
Earlier this year, the Mills Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based developer, announced plans for an entertainment-oriented shopping center that would replace The City, a now-vacant mall in Orange.
San Francisco-based Century Theatres is planning an entertainment center at the now-closed Stadium Drive-In on Katella Avenue in Orange, and Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres plans to build an entertainment center at the now-closed Anaheim Drive-In on Lemon Street at the Riverside Freeway.
The wave of entertainment centers is part of a nationwide trend toward the use of movie theaters, restaurants and entertaining retail shops as magnets to draw shoppers into new commercial developments.
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The Irvine Entertainment Center will nearly double in size when The Irvine Co. completes a 250,000-square-foot expansion. Completion is tentatively scheduled for the 1997 holiday season.