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Brea Birch Street Mall Begins to Take Root

Development: Work begins on project intended to create a Main Street-style ambience.


Los Angeles-based CIM Group, known for renovating retail buildings in trendy locales such as Santa Monica's famed Third Street Promenade and San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, has started construction in Brea on the first phase of Birch Street Promenade--a $16-million project designed to re-create Main Street-style shopping in the suburban Orange County community.

The first phase, which will feature three buildings with a mix of retail space and 30 loft-style apartments, is expected to be completed in April. Construction on a second group of three retail buildings will begin early next year and for a fall opening, said John Given, a vice president with CIM Group.

The project is a key component of the $100-million master plan conceived about a decade ago to revitalize the downtown district, which city observers say deteriorated after giant Brea Mall opened in the mid-1970s. Brea's "Main Street," Brea Boulevard, suffered further when the street was widened and the resulting decline in pedestrian traffic harmed small businesses.

"The need to congregate and socialize [was] moved into malls," said Sue Georgino, Brea's redevelopment director. "Now it's moving back downtown."

Persuading people to return to downtown areas, Given said, requires restaurants and shops that inspire people to linger rather than just dash in. He declined to say which businesses will open in the 108,000-square-foot center that will span two city blocks, but real estate sources say CIM has leases with Market City Cafe, Zen Zoot Tea, women's sportswear retailer Chico's, a cigar bar and a folk art store. Serious negotiations are reportedly taking place with Pottery Barn and Urban Outfitters.

Plans for the downtown make-over began in the late 1980s when city officials and residents held meetings to determine how best to revitalize the area. In the early 1990s, the city floated bonds to acquire 60 acres of downtown land that it is now selling at a discount to developers.

The revitalization is beginning to take form, with 92 single-family cottage-style houses; a neighborhood shopping center with grocery, pet and drug stores; a movie theater complex and a parking structure already built.

In addition to Birch Street Promenade, three more blocks of retail, restaurants and single-family homes are in the planning stages across Brea Boulevard, officials say.

The projects are expected to contribute more than $1 million annually in sales and property tax revenue to city coffers, Georgino said.

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