COSTA MESA — Crystal Court, the "other" mall that has long been overshadowed by neighboring South Coast Plaza, will undergo a major revitalization that includes a motorized walkway to connect the two retail centers.
C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, the family-owned development company that operates both malls, plans to have an 800-foot people mover over Bear Street "up and running within 18 months," Anton Segerstrom, general manager of Crystal Court, said Wednesday.
"We are in the process of finalizing the design and working with the engineers and city officials," Segerstrom said, adding that the company hopes to complete the bridge in time for the 1999 holiday shopping season.
The bridge is part of larger plan to overhaul the tenant mix of Crystal Court. Key to the strategy is a plan by R.H. Macy & Co. to convert its 192,000-square-foot store into a Macy's Home Store, according to people familiar with the company's plans.
With a Macy's Home Store in hand, the Segerstroms could then market Crystal Court as more of a home furnishings center and go after a host of new stores that include Crate & Barrel Furniture, Eddie Bauer Home and Banana Republic Home.
"Anything that will increase the accessibility between the centers would be positive, particularly if there's going to be a bigger emphasis in Crystal Court on home furnishings," said Gregory Stoffel, an Irvine shopping-center consultant. "That would make it more of a destination center."
For the Segerstroms, the walkway would complete a long-unrealized dream of connecting the two centers. It will be patterned somewhat after a "moving sidewalk" that connects two centers known as the Sommerset Collection in Troy, Mich., Segerstrom said.
Connecting Crystal Court's third floor to a point between Macy's and Nordstrom at South Coast, it would be enclosed and shuttle shoppers between the two malls in less than two minutes. Segerstrom declined to disclose the estimated cost.
It would be the second bridge built by the Segerstroms to link their formidable real estate holdings. In 1992, a 560-foot, $2.5-million bridge was completed across Bristol Street, connecting South Coast Plaza to the Westin Hotel and a collection of office buildings, in which the family has ownership interests.
Construction of the Bear Street bridge has been delayed for years by objections from May Department Stores Co. because its archrival, Broadway, was an anchor at Crystal Court. However, Broadway was acquired by Macy parent Federated Department Stores in 1995, causing May to withdraw its protest.
The 600,000-square-foot Crystal Court opened in 1986 as the first major extension of South Coast Plaza, the highest-grossing shopping center in the Western United States with 1997 sales of about $950 million. But it has never lived up to the expectations of its internationally famous sibling.
"We're happy that the bridge is being built," said Macy spokeswoman Merle Goldstone in San Francisco, who declined to elaborate on the store's future. "We will continue to work with South Coast Plaza to find ways to improve Crystal Court."
Privately though, Macy's West Chairman Michael Steinberg has told the Segerstroms that the Crystal Court home store is one of the company's top priorities this year, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
The big New York department store chain has operated its Crystal Court store as a kind of clearance center for more than a year and it is a merchandising eyesore.
Deeply discounted apparel, cosmetics and housewares are displayed neatly on rounders, tables and counters throughout the three-level store. But there are none of the upscale furnishings, lighting, displays or even directional signs to which Macy shoppers are accustomed. It is staffed by a small crew of sales people.
Its conversion to a home store is said to be tied up by internal bickering between the merchants and accountants within Macy's. The conversion would involve moving the home furnishings department out of Macy's main store at South Coast Plaza, which would trigger a renovation of that store as well.
The two projects together likely would cost upward of $50 million, industry experts estimate.
Officials at some of the new home-furnishings chains the Segerstroms are likely to target said they'd be interested in bringing their stores to South Coast Plaza--as long as they physically connect them to a related apparel store.
"We are not looking to do anything standalone with the home concept," said Bob Shapiro, vice president of real estate at Redmond, Wash.-based Eddie Bauer, which plans to open eight home stores this year. "We definitely want to grow our presence at South Coast Plaza."
Ditto for Banana Republic Home, a Gap Inc. unit that has installed home furnishings sections in 24 of its 249 U.S. stores.