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Traditional Mall Comes Out of Shell

Retail: A $69-million renovation removes the roof from an enclosed center and turns it into an outdoor shopping district.


In a dramatic example of "demalling," an Atlanta-based shopping center developer has removed nearly four acres of roofing from a regional mall in Rolling Hills Estates in a $69-million effort to make the center look more like a traditional city shopping district.

The inside-out conversion of the 385,000-square-foot Avenue of the Peninsula is part of a national trend to capitalize on the popularity of such venues as Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and Old Pasadena by renovating regional malls to resemble city streets.

In Rolling Hills Estates, sunlight washes through lanes that were formerly air-conditioned, artificially lit corridors. Children cavort in a fountain in an area that once served as an access road to a parking structure.

The new design encourages people to come to the mall, said Bernadette Bransch, an assistant general manager at Saks Fifth Avenue, adding that the outdoor scheme is "part of a new trend of malls to become lifestyle centers." Retailers define lifestyle centers as shopping venues that encourage people to stay for long periods by offering entertainment or sports facilities.

The mall, built in 1980 by Hahn Co. of San Diego, was an "average performer," according to Robert A. Manarino, senior vice president of the Western Region for Cousins MarketCenters, which acquired the property in 1998.

At that time, the mall was in need of a turnaround: The two anchor tenants, Macy's and Robinsons-May, had pulled out two years earlier, depriving the center of its major draws.

Cousins officials decided the property needed a radical make-over to attract new tenants and shoppers. Cousins closed the center in late 1998 for about a year, and removed about 170,000 square feet of roofing. The developer also built a new shopping street in between the existing center and its parking structure.

"The only way to make this [center] feel like Main Street, and make it 'villagey,' was to close the street to traffic and line the street with two levels" of new construction, Manarino said.

Cousins, which has built or renovated about 1.2 million square feet of retail property in California, started demalling in Long Beach, where it converted the 200,000-square-foot center now known as Los Altos MarketCenter, built in the 1950s, into a "power center" with a small number of large retailers.

A Rolling Hills Estates official said the city is pleased by the mall make-over, which dovetails with the city's plan to draw pedestrians to Deep Valley Drive. The city plans to install benches, tree wells, new pavement and new landscaping in July.

Currently, the mall is about 99% finished, and a number of new tenants have already opened. "We're a work in progress," Manarino said.

"We are very eager to have [the mall] open in its entirety, and act as a draw for extra commercial activity" on the street, City Manager Douglas R. Prichard said.

Other examples of demalling include Paseo Colorado, formerly known as Plaza Pasadena, a conventional enclosed mall in Pasadena that will soon be demolished and rebuilt as an outdoor shopping venue with a multiplex theater and loft-style apartments on upper levels.

Also, the well-known Sherman Oaks Galleria is being reconfigured as office space and movie theaters.

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