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Mission Viejo Mall to Undergo Major Upgrade

Retail: Nordstrom to replace Montgomery Ward. Fifty shops and restaurants also will be added to center built in 1979.

January 14, 1997|GREG JOHNSON and FRANK MESSINA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MISSION VIEJO — The reinvention of Orange County's aging shopping centers continued Monday with Mission Viejo Mall announcing plans for a major renovation that includes a highly prized Nordstrom Department Store.

The much-needed face-lift--the first since the mall opened in 1979--will include the closing of a Montgomery Ward store and the addition of a 180,000-square-foot Nordstrom, 50 smaller retail shops and several new restaurants. The mall's size will increase by 200,000 square feet to just over 1 million square feet.

No dollar amount for the renovation was announced, but construction crews "will redo this mall from the floor to the ceiling," said Art Spellmeyer, senior vice president of Simon DeBartolo Group, the Indianapolis-based company that owns Mission Viejo Mall. "There's nothing here that won't get touched."

City officials and the mall's operators describe the deal to bring a Nordstrom to the center as something of a coup. The Seattle-based chain has for years been studying locations for a South County location to complement existing stores at Brea Mall, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and MainPlace Santa Ana.

Nordstrom co-President Peter Nordstrom said the chain has no immediate expansion plans elsewhere in Southern California, but that Nordstrom will continue to open stores in Eastern and Southern states.

Nordstrom said that the new location shouldn't detract from business at its other Orange County stores.

"We've recognized for a long time that we have a lot of customers (in South County) and if we can get them to come to Mission Viejo five times a year when maybe they went to South Coast Plaza twice a year, we'll be quite successful."

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Terms of the deal weren't released, but some sources said that Simon DeBartolo, the nation's largest mall operator, agreed to pay about $20 million to Nordstrom.

Retail industry observers described the Mission Viejo Mall project as expensive but necessary given increasingly cutthroat competition in the shopping center industry.

"When it comes to retail, most of the country is already saturated," said Ira Kalish, a Los Angeles-based analyst with Price Waterhouse. "But malls that don't get renovated do more poorly than ones that do. So if you're going to refurbish a mall, it makes sense to go for key tenants who will attract customers."

Mall operators like Simon DeBartolo are scrambling to line up tenants that will lure customers "at a time when competition is simply brutal," Kalish said. "That's why, along with new anchors like a Nordstrom's, malls are adding things like entertainment, movie complexes and restaurants."

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Mission Viejo Mall joins a rapidly growing list of Southern California shopping center operators trying to breathe new life into tired shopping centers by juggling tenants and completing expensive renovations.

In December, the owners of long-suffering Huntington Center Mall announced plans to tear down a vacant Broadway department store and replace it with a 21-screen movie theater and restaurants. Earlier, Buena Park Mall and The City mall in Orange announced plans for renovations.

Crews will start renovating Mission Viejo Mall later this year. While the renovation is scheduled to be completed in time for the 1998 holiday shopping season, Nordstrom won't open until 1999.

The Nordstrom store will be built at the south end of the mall, near the Montgomery Ward location. Montgomery Ward officials said jobs might be found at other stores for 100 employees now working at the mall.

Mission Viejo City Manager Dan Joseph will meet with Simon DeBartolo officials to determine what role the city might play in the project.

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Competition for South County's pocketbooks has heated up in recent months, with mall operators scrambling for their share of residents' estimated $1.45 billion in discretionary income.

Joseph said the presence of a Nordstrom in South County signals "recognition that the population and demographics of this area has grown to a magnitude that can support a Nordstrom's."

Mission Viejo Mall General Manager Connie Wilson said the renovation should please both shop owners and consumers.

"We known who our customers are and we know what kind of money they have available to shop," Wilson said. "We want to give our shoppers a reason to shop here."

The mall's new look undoubtedly will mean change for some shoppers who have grown accustomed to the mall's slower pace in recent years.

Mission Viejo resident Thelma Medrea, who walks around the mall for exercise, lamented the upcoming renovation, saying that "It's never really busy when I walk here, especially during the off-season. I imagine Nordstrom will change all that."

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