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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RETAIL

Huntington Beach Mall Solidifies Remodel Plans

March 21, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST

With the wrecking ball aimed at the aging Huntington Beach Mall, the center's owner said Monday that its vision for the property has crystallized--and the renovation price has doubled.

As envisioned, the new "Italian village" will include a variety of stores, high-end restaurants and a 16- to 18-screen theater. Names of prospective new tenants are not being released.

The cost, initially figured at $50 million, has jumped to $100 million, said Douglas Gray, president of Irvine-based Ezralow Retail Properties, which bought the center from MaceRich Co. in Santa Monica last year for $50 million.

If it's standard practice for a redevelopment to cost more than expected, it's also common for projects to take longer to unfold than anticipated. The redevelopment was supposed to begin in January. Now Ezralow says it will begin asbestos abatement in May, and demolition won't start until at least September. The new Crossings at Huntington mall is expected to be open by the end of 2001.

Virtually all of the main mall will be torn down. A separate section of the center, which includes Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Combest General Store, will stay open and get a partial face-lift. The exterior of Mervyn's site, which is not owned by Ezralow, will also be renovated, Gray said. Montgomery Ward, also separately owned, is not part of the remodel.

It's still not clear what will happen to many of the mall's current tenants. Most small retailers will be gone by April 30.

"It's really going to create financial hardship for the majority of them," said Stuart Wallach, a Newport Beach attorney who was hired by a group of tenants as tensions mounted between retailers and the landlord.

Indeed, some still have no place to go.

"Everybody's scrambling for leases," said Elizabeth Berg, co-owner of Three Old Crows gift shop. "We don't know what we're going to do."

Jewelry store Facets 58, a tenant for 15 years, expects to reopen in June at Seacliff Village shopping center, currently under construction at Goldenwest Street and Yorktown Avenue in Huntington Beach.

Ezralow is still negotiating with the Huntington Beach Mall's largest tenant, Burlington Coat Factory, which said it expects to stay where it is or be shifted to a new spot in the rebuilt mall.

"They can't tear it down as long as I'm in it," said Bruce Hackel, Burlington's regional manager. "And I'm not moving until we have our negotiations completed." Burlington has about 25 years left on its 30-year lease, he said.

But Gray said the current Burlington won't be spared.

"There's no question that that store will come down," he said. "The question is whether Burlington will be part of the new development or not."

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