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Planners approve upgrade of mall

The Thousand Oaks shopping center would add a Nordstrom and a 14-screen movie theater.

October 25, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A $100-million expansion of the Oaks mall, which will include Ventura County's first Nordstrom department store, has been approved by Thousand Oaks' city planners.

"I say we do what we always do: Lead," said Planning Commissioner Mark Lunn. "This project will keep us the jewel of Ventura County."

The expansion is to include a 14-screen movie theater, an open-air marketplace for fashion retailers, a food court, four stand-alone restaurants and a parking structure. The project, which will involve upgrades of the shopping center, is scheduled to begin early next year with completion set for fall 2008.

A second phase would include another high-end department store, such as a Bloomingdale's or a Saks Fifth Avenue, and a second parking structure.

The city Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 Monday to approve the project by Santa Monica-based Macerich Co., which owns the mall. The action is final unless appealed to the City Council.

Chairwoman Janet Wall was the lone dissenter, citing concerns about insufficient parking. Macerich maintains that it has planned enough parking to accommodate the expanded shopping center.

"I'm sorry, I don't have the confidence in the parking study," Wall said. "I'm really praying that I'm wrong. I don't know how we'll correct it if I'm not."

The expansion is less than half of what Macerich envisioned, but the new plan "still has all the new elements the community said it wanted to see," said Randy Brant, the company's senior vice president of development leasing.

Macerich, which also owns Pacific View Mall in Ventura, purchased the Oaks four years ago and has worked to update and expand it since 2003. The centerpiece of the expansion will be the new Nordstrom, considered a premier retailer.

Although there is a Nordstrom Rack in Oxnard's Esplanade shopping center, this will be the retailer's first full-service department store in the county.

Numerous residents and mall merchants praised the project at the meeting and encouraged its swift approval.

Kamal Darwiche, who manages a gift store in the Oaks, told the commissioners that modernizing the mall was crucial to remaining competitive. "Our livelihood is at stake," he said.

Contractor Larry Carignan, who served on a citizens committee that advised Macerich on its proposal, said the project should keep local shoppers from traveling to newer malls in Ventura County or to the recently renovated Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park.

"Let's keep Thousand Oaks as a destination shopping location and not a pass-through place as people head elsewhere to spend their money," Carignan said.

Local economists said the Oaks must modernize to compete with newer malls, such as the nearby Simi Valley Town Center, which celebrates its first anniversary this week.

"Especially with the new competitor, they had to do it," said Bill Watkins, executive director of UC Santa Barbara's Economic Forecast, which tracks the regional economy. "Not doing the upgrade would likely mean very slow growth in sales tax or perhaps a decline. And retail sales are very important for a city's finances."

City officials estimate the expansion will produce $900,000 in additional annual sales tax revenue and at least $300,000 in added property taxes. The Oaks currently provides about $2.5 million in annual sales taxes.

"Now, we really start working," Macerich's Brant said after the meeting. "Everything should start to happen at 100 mph in the first quarter of next year: construction, demolition and announcements" of new tenants.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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