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Many Wonder What's in Store for Oaks Mall

Retail: Shopping center's pending sale has merchants and city officials hoping for a new upscale tenant.

April 20, 2002|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the owners of The Oaks shopping center mull purchase offers, merchants and Thousand Oaks city officials are hoping a new proprietor will burnish the center's image by going after a higher-end department store.

"We have customers each day that say they would like to see something like a Nordstrom, Saks or Bloomingdale's," said Joe Perez, manager of Ben Bridge Jewelers.

Perez said the mall is well managed and enjoys robust sales. But he and other shopkeepers lament the redundancy in the mall's anchor stores. Because of mergers during the mid-1990s, The Oaks ended up being anchored by two Robinsons-May and two Macy's stores. There is also a JCPenney.

The city of Thousand Oaks also wants more of a choice for shoppers.

"We want any future buyer to be looking at the mall as a quality mall that deserves additional investment," said Deputy City Manager Jim Friedl. "Perhaps even adding a significant retailer."

The mall is primarily owned by the California State Teachers' Retirement System. Toronto-based TrizecHahn Corp., which manages the center for the public school educators' pension fund, owns a minority share.

As for the shopping center's hush-hush price tag, an approximate market value of $165 million has been "discussed loosely," said Thousand Oaks Economic Development Manager Gary Wartik. CalSTRS purchased the mall in 1991 for $94 million, according to a CalSTRS spokeswoman.

If the mall is sold, the deal would represent only about 60% of the overall property, Wartik said. That is because the anchor stores own their respective real estate and accompanying parking spaces.

Although TrizecHahn officials declined to provide specific details of their search for suitors, city officials said a sealed-bid process concluded last week.

Three potential buyers have contacted Thousand Oaks officials for "getting-to-know-you" consultations, Friedl said.

"They are going to want to know what the local government is like," he said.

While any deal is ultimately a private transaction between buyer and seller, Friedl said, the city wants a buyer committed to securing the long-term health of the mall.

"What we can do is put out a positive message about what kind of buyer we are hoping to be able to embrace," he said.

With the sealed-bid process concluded, Wartik said, mall management is now likely reviewing any offers. "We would anticipate that management might narrow it down in a matter of some weeks," he said.

CalSTRS officials would not discuss their decision to sell the shopping center. Rick Matthews, a spokesman with TrizecHahn, said the sale reflects his company's corporate restructuring from a Canadian-based real estate company to a U.S.-based real estate investment trust.

The city gained $2.3 million in tax revenue for fiscal year 2000-2001 from the mall--second behind Thousand Oaks Auto Mall.

Developer Ernest Hahn opened The Oaks in 1978 on about 90 acres encircled by West Hillcrest Drive, Lynn Road and the Ventura Freeway.

With 130 stores and more than 1 million square feet of floor space, the mall was the county's largest retail center for years, until the recent renovation of the Pacific View Mall in Ventura.

And there is good reason to grow, Wartik said, because research has shown that many area residents travel outside the county to shop at upscale stores.

"For many years, people have wanted something like a Nordstrom or a Bloomingdale's because the area demands that," said Kamal Darwiche, owner of Final Touch, a collectibles shop at the mall. "Many customers say they have to drive to the Valley or Santa Barbara if they want to shop at a fine department store."

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