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CALIFORNIA | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RETAILING

Mall Dressed Up With Someplace to Go?

March 11, 1997|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citicorp Plaza, home of the troubled Seventh Market Place shopping center, may soon be sold in a deal that reflects renewed interest in retail property in downtown Los Angeles.

The prospective buyer is Toronto-based TrizecHahn Corp., the West Coast's largest mall operator. TrizecHahn, owner of Arcadia's Santa Anita Fashion Park and Culver City's Fox Hills Mall, could seal the deal for Citicorp Plaza as soon as next month.

"We're progressing toward closing the sale," said Robert Forrest, senior vice president at TrizecHahn. "We think it's a great property. We like the location of the property because we're confident there will be a resurgence downtown."

That confidence can only increase as plans progress for a downtown sports arena. The Los Angeles City Council recently pledged funds and city property to help pave the way for the construction of an arena near the Convention Center.

The proposed arena, which could be completed by 1999 or 2000, would become the new home of the Lakers basketball and Kings hockey teams. The developers also hope to build restaurants, movie theaters and a hotel that would be linked to the under-booked Convention Center.

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The project would be a boon to downtown retailers because it would attract sports fans and more convention visitors to the region, said Jack Kyser, senior economist at the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. Such crowds could bring downtown merchants the weeknight and weekend business they need so desperately.

"With an arena and a major new hotel, the Convention Center could book additional trade shows--and that would bring more people downtown," Kyser said. "The elements for a downtown renaissance are falling into place."

That long-hoped-for renaissance would boost downtown property values. Declining real estate values had been a key concern of Citicorp Plaza's mortgage holder, Teachers Insurance & Annuity Assn. of America. The property, at Figueroa and 7th streets, went on the sales block late last year, and a bidding war ensued.

If TrizecHahn wins, it is expected to aggressively seek new tenants for the shopping center, which has about 45 shops and restaurants. The company would have to find a tenant to replace the Bullock's that Federated Department Stores closed earlier this month. Federated transformed other Bullock's stores into Macy's last year.

The closing of Bullock's, in turn, activated a lease clause that allows Robinsons-May, the other major tenant, to leave Seventh Market Place. However, major players in the retail real estate scene expect the operator of Robinsons-May to give the new mall owners a chance to make improvements.

Other downtown merchants are already making improvements to lure more shoppers. A more ambitious business improvement plan has been implemented by property owners in the Fashion District, formerly known as the Garment District.

The district's property owners are developing plans to establish a uniform validation program that would eliminate or reduce parking fees. for those who do business with the area's 3,500 wholesalers and retailers.

George White can be reached via e-mail at george.white@latimes.com or fax at (213) 237-7837.

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