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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Old-World Charm Is Developer's Magic Touch

PROFILE: Rick Caruso's projects are known for a European-style ambience that appeals to upscale shoppers.

January 16, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The project will be built on 11 acres next to the 6-year-old Civic Arts Plaza, home to Thousand Oaks' City Hall and its Performing Arts Center. The land is flanked by boxy, outdated storefronts along Thousand Oaks Boulevard in what was the city's original retail corridor. A $6-million public garden is being built across the street.

City officials say they are counting on Discovery Park to draw a crowd year round, not just to itself but to other stores on the boulevard, the arts plaza, the public gardens and an ambitious future project known as the Ventura County Discovery Center, a children's science facility. That multimillion-dollar effort can't get off the ground until more private money is raised, but it is envisioned to include an Imax theater and would take advantage of its proximity to the new shops and restaurants.

The project faces complications. Several movie-theater chains are in bankruptcy nationally, which seems to have slowed Caruso's ability to sign the theater deal upon which his existing development agreement with the city hinges.

Critics of the project, including City Councilwoman Linda Parks, hope the trouble with the theater industry forces Caruso to scale back his plans and reopen negotiations with the city.

Also, the land is not as close to a freeway exit as would be ideal. And the modern, angular look of the Civic Arts Plaza prevents Caruso from going with his preferred Mediterranean look, because it would clash architecturally.

But as Caruso surveyed a Promenade parking lot filling up with early evening shoppers recently, he smiled. If he's sweating the months of work or uncertainly that lie ahead, he doesn't show it.

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