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Simi Breaks Ground on Mall

The Town Center complex is expected to generate $3.5 million in tax revenue after a year of operation, set to begin October 2005.

June 30, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

After years of planning, Simi Valley officials celebrated a milestone Tuesday with the groundbreaking on a $300-million regional shopping mall and residential project expected to provide a big boost to city coffers.

Not even cloudy skies could dampen the upbeat mood of city officials who joined the development team at the site of the future Simi Valley Town Center, located on a hilltop north of the Ronald Reagan Freeway. The mall -- which will be anchored by a Robinsons-May, Macy's and Lowe's home improvement center -- is expected to open in October 2005.

"This is probably the most glorious day in my years on the City Council," said Mayor Bill Davis, who has served 18 years on the panel. "The residents are finally going to get something they've waited so long for."

As bulldozers rumbled in the distance, Davis recounted for the dozens of well-wishers and officials gathered at the 129-acre site how a regional mall had been in the city's plans for more than two decades.

Over the years, several developers considered building a mall in the city, which has a population of 111,000, but were stymied either by a poor economy or reservations about the consumer base, Davis said.

The current developers -- Corti Gilchrist Partnership and Finley Group in San Diego and Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland -- saw potential for a local shopping center to draw from the western San Fernando Valley and began working with the city five years ago.

"It was a totally different vision," Davis said later. "Everything fell into place with these guys. They were very positive."

Brian Jones, president of Forest City's West Coast development operations, said the center's open-air, Mediterranean-style design would also be a key to its success. The partners hired F+A Architects in Glendale, whose design director, David Kofahl, helped create Fashion Island in Newport Beach and the Commons at Calabasas.

"In order for this site to capture its full potential, it could not simply be another enclosed regional shopping center," Jones said. "It had to be different. It had to be unique. It had to be exceptional."

In addition to the anchor tenants, the 800,000-square-foot mall, between 1st Street and Erringer Road, will include 100 smaller retailers connected by a series of covered walkways on a 42-acre tract.

A separate Town and County section will be built on 25 acres on the site's west end and will be anchored by Lowe's and other big-box retailers. An $80-million luxury apartment complex will be built on an adjacent 23-acre parcel.

Should they choose to exercise the option, the developers also have the city's approval to expand the Macy's, add a third department store and build a 150-room hotel and up to 100,000 square feet of office space.

Brian Gabler, assistant city manager, said Simi Valley would receive an estimated $2.5 million in added sales tax from the Town Center and $1 million in increased property tax revenue after a year of operation. After 25 years, the annual sales tax revenue is expected to more than double, he said.

"When you consider the sales and property tax this project will generate, it will be enough to keep the streets and roads and Police Department going forever," Davis told the crowd.

Randy Brant, a senior vice president with Macerich Co. -- operator of Ventura County's regional shopping centers in Ventura and Thousand Oaks -- said he did not expect the Simi Valley Town Center to cut into sales at The Oaks, which has signed a deal to bring a Nordstrom to the Conejo Valley and plans a major expansion of the mall by 2007.

Retail experts believe the Town Center will be a hit with residents from Moorpark to Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. But that success may come at the expense of its local rivals.

"The good thing is that it will keep people shopping more in Simi Valley. The bad news is that there will be fewer dollars to go around" for other retailers, said David Rush, who follows the industry for the Ventura commercial real estate office of CB Richard Ellis.

Based on a recent survey of shopping centers large enough to have an anchor tenant, Simi Valley has an 8.7% vacancy, compared with a countywide average of about 5.9%, Rush said.

But economist Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara, thinks the Ventura County economy is strong enough to justify another regional venue.

"We can withstand more retail in the county, especially in Simi," Schniepp said. "Furthermore, you may have more people coming in from Chatsworth to shop there and that would be a bonus to the county."

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