Friday, August 18, 2006

Westfield and Downtown Plaza

So what do people think of the latest Downtown Plaza proposal? I think there are some good and bad parts of the proposal, but I think it's also a good starting point.

Between this proposal of an additional 140K square feet, 60K on the 700 block of K Street, 23K at 621, 15K at Aura and 60K at The Towers, we should see a nice a jump in retail options in the next few years.

The Good -
-The exterior improvements have always been big in my mind to help transform DTP into something more urban and pedestrian friendly versus the bunker it is now. Now they just need to do the same on the J Street side now.

- The grocery store is much needed. Of the three mentioned, I really hope the local Nugget gets the nod.

-I have always favored having the theaters above Hard Rock at 7th and K. The location is much more strategic being at the foot of K Street Mall, plus I would rather see Westfield build up and leave more room for other retail.

-I like the Target idea. I don't think it is going to be a major draw outside of area, but it would serve the area residents nicely. BUT, they still need to attract a higher end store. Target alone won't cut it.

My ideal combination of anchors stores would be Macy's, Target and a higher end store in the area of a Saks, Neimun Markus, Bloomingdales, or even a Nordstrom. I think that would cover discount shopping, middle income and higher incomes. I would like to see one of the Macy's locations expanded a couple of floors and moved into one location to make room for another anchor. I have to imagine Macys would see the benefit of having all departments all in one location versus on opposites sides of DTP.

The bad -
- I was hoping the Macy's stores would get some exterior improvements on the L Street side to open them up as well.

-The 20M is too much. I don't think it's wise to spend that much money on this project. I would be more comfortable if that amount was in the 10M range. The city needs to make sure it leaves enough money to encourage as much housing as possible. I do expect that number to come down though with some negotiations from the city

Couple of other things as well:
First - We all know there is only a certain amount of redevelopment left and many more projects than money.

While I am not a big advocate of holding the big community meeting on an individual project and slows things down, but in this case I would really like to see the city hold something where we can take a look at everything that is out there for redevelopment money and let the community give their input on what they feel the money would be best spent on.

I don't want something like the JKL that took a couple years to shake down, but just something or one night for people to have an educated idea of what is out there and give input to the city council and planners

Let all the developers come to the communty and pitch their idea.

Who is to say there isn't a 500 unit affordable housing proposal out there that could be built with this 15M? But not if we give the money to Westfield.

Second - This Luree Stetson lady is really starting to piss me off. The reason your theater is venerable is because it is a piece of shit. The experience of watching a film there is terrible. If the company that owns the Tower would put some money into it, it might actually be a place people would want to go.

The Tower is owned by Reading Entertainment, a corporation that hides behind the shadow of the Tower Theater. They bitch and moan about how can the city give money to the big bad corporation Century when they are exactly the same thing.

Why don't they come up with a plan on how to fix the Tower and bring it to the city to see how it can help? They could have had a piece of the 100M community reinvestment dollars that were handed out earlier this year to things like The Crocker, Memorial, Sacramento Zoo and others.

They have been "in the process" for years now. They need to stop bitching and step up to the plate.

Makeover for downtown mall unveiled
By Terri Hardy -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, August 17, 2006

The owners of the aging Downtown Plaza have submitted plans to the city for a $100 million renovation and expansion that would include a Target, an upscale grocery store and a controversial theater complex above the Hard Rock Cafe.

The project comes with a steep request -- a city subsidy of as much as $20 million.

We have a development plan that is going to have broad support and position the Downtown Plaza for the future," said Larry Green, senior vice president of development for the mall's owner, Westfield Corp. Inc. "It has a major entertainment component, a new major anchor."City leaders said they are excited that the long-anticipated project finally has been submitted to the planning department. Officials for years have criticized Westfield's inattention and lack of reinvestment at the Westfield Shoppingtown Downtown Plaza.

"We've been asking Westfield to come back with a comprehensive makeover and it sounds like they've done that," said Vice Mayor Rob Fong.

Councilman Ray Tretheway, whose district includes downtown, said Westfield's proposal removes many, many doubts" about the mall owner's commitment to the property.

The plan would expand by 140,000 square feet the 1.2 million-square-foot mall, said David Kwong, city planning manager.

Westfield envisions transforming the office-like exterior into a sleek, open and updated building. Said Green, "It will have a strong retail presence -- you'll see fashion, see display windows, see people moving up and down -- a significant change to the L Street facade."

The structure at 515 L St., which houses Morton's of Chicago restaurant, would be torn down. It would be replaced with a grocery store on the ground floor and a 400,000-square-foot Target on the second and third levels, city officials said.

Westfield has signed a letter of intent with Target but is not officially naming the company as its new anchor until the city and Westfield's board approve the plans. However, city officials say the store is a Target.

Westfield hasn't signed a supermarket, but has talked with Whole Foods, Nugget and Bristol Farms.

The seven theaters now at the west end of the mall would be eliminated and the food court expanded, with an addition of a new restaurant or more retail. A new, expanded 3,800-seat theater complex would be moved to Seventh and K streets.

The Hard Rock Cafe would be on the first level, a retail store on the second, and the cineplex on the third floor.

Westfield listened to a city request to place the theaters atop the Hard Rock to boost foot traffic on the struggling K Street mall, Kaplan said. But the engineering difficulties and extra costs inherent in that design would require city financial help.

Early last year, Westfield estimated that the theater job would take a $5 million city subsidy. Skyrocketing construction costs substantially boosted the price tag, Kaplan said.

"We're doing everything we can to make the city's desire a reality, but the reality is that it will take a higher contribution than estimated," Kaplan said.

Westfield will be competing for a dwindling amount of redevelopment funds. Several large projects have put in requests for city subsidies in excess of $104 million, but $22 million remains in the redevelopment kitty.

On Wednesday, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership board voted to recommend that the two biggest priorities are moving the Greyhound bus station and renovating Westfield.

Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said the two projects are pivotal to the success of the city's urban core. However, he said it's time to hear specifics about other tenants and detail why $20 million is needed.

Tretheway said the council would need to carefully weigh all applications for funds, including Westfield's. "The good news for them is that they have their plans in and they're now in line," he said. "If they'd kept missing their deadlines, they would have been out of the picture."

Meanwhile, community leaders have said they fear a larger complex will show art films and put the Broadway's venerable Tower Theatre out of business.

Century Theatres, which operates movies at Downtown Plaza, has said it wanted 16 screens in in expanded movie complex. But Century's merger with Cinemark Theatres has made it unclear how many screens would be built, Westfield said. Fong and other city leaders have said they will allow no more than 12 screens.

Luree Stetson, a member of the Tower District Alliance, said the position of Alliance and of Reading International, owners of the Tower, hasn't changed, she said. "A plan with 3,800 seats is a problem," Stetson said.

Plans were submitted last week to the city's development services department. It will take three to six months to go through the review process of design and environmental impacts, Kwong said. The Planning Commission has final approval of the project.

Westfield is also planning to submit a document detailing its costs and request for city subsidy to the city's economic development department. That department will evaluate the request and take a recommendation to the City Council by the end of the year, officials said.


Uneasy Rhetoric said...

I think this plan is basically a good one. I wouldn't be surprised if Target decided to close the Riverside store in favor of this one. Or maybe not.

I'm completely with you on Tower. I've been grumbling for a long time that the owners were just using the specter of competition as a screen for their own unwillingness to improve the theater.

Anonymous said...

Woah, easy there on the Tower. There are a lot of forces at work here, not the least of which that the theater is old and will need substantial(read-expensive!) retrofitting to make it the sort of experience theatergoers want these days. Remember, this is a dinosaur that used to play single movies to giant audiences. The Independent film business is not a not huge cash cow either-Tower's been sold and has been losing money for awhile now.

One thing that I know you guys on this blog will appreciate is that if the Tower goes, it's a loss, even though it doesn't smell new, have the Dolby-whosawhatsit sound, and giant cupholders. Even though this blog is often about the ethos of new development in Sac, it's old establishments like the Tower that give this place weight.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Thanks for your comments, Anonymous.

First of all, I think everyone realizes that losing the Tower would be a big loss. I have always said keeping true historic buildings is important, and that includes the Tower.

At the same time though, I don't think it's an unfair comment what so ever that the current owners are simply trying to keep competition away based on the actions we have seen, at least that is the perception by many people.

Yes, I know it's very expensive to retrofit a building, esp a very old building, but come on now, I have seen little to no effort to do anything to that building on Readings part.

Yes, this site is about new developments, of new AND old buildings. I would be opposed to demo of the Marshall or Berry for example and the second I hear about a rehab to a building like that, you will see it happily on here. And no that doesn't include the Greyhound or Biltmore.

TowerDistrict said...

It's difficult for me to sound off against the Tower, especially when the argument is in Westfield's favor - but here is the proof in the proverbial puddin' - Westfield has taken on a big project and done some serious work on the front end, and now the city is considering their request for $20 million!!!

If Tower would make any sort of effort, I see absolutely no reason why they couldn't reap the same rewards. The Tower, despite its physical condition, is still a very relevant and functioning Sacramento landmark. But clout alone, won't get them by for another 20 years.

Back to the Westfield proposal - I would love it if this took the place Riverside Target. I shutter to think of two Targets within a 1.5 mile radius. That equates one WalMart in my mind. haha. The renderings look like a taste of Arden from initial inspection. I also don't understand how making the mall larger will fix its problems. The whole proposal seems unfocused. Hopefully further news fills in some of the blanks. I would hate to see a larger space with even less people that cost $20 million to make happen.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Given the article today in the paper about where this money could go, I have to say no to the Westfield amount. A smaller amount could work, but no way 20M. Even 10M is too much.