The issue: Westfield is planning to expand the downtown mall / Our position: A $30 million investment is not enough to make the mall vibrant
Sacramento Business Journal
Friday, February 6, 2009
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been criticized for his fast-moving actions and forward-looking goals, from an effort to establish a strong mayor form of government to hiring an out-of-state firm to look at money-saving options for the city facing a possible $50 million shortfall.
But almost anyone who has cruised through the central city would applaud the mayor’s hard-line stance on the Westfield Downtown Plaza. The center — a collection of brand-name retailers, mom-and-pop shops and numerous empty storefronts — has been a disappointment for the past several years.
Now, the Westfield Group, one of the nation’s best-known and largest shopping center owners, has announced an expansion and face-lift for the open-air mall. Company executives are sharing few details or a timeline for the multimillion-dollar project.
But community leaders and downtown executives say the project will cost about $30 million, a paltry amount compared to the Westfield Galleria at Roseville.
“We’re not going to be satisfied with a modest investment,” Johnson said during the State of Downtown breakfast Jan. 22.
Neither will we. We also won’t be satisfied with a half-hearted investment that does little more than push retailers around the center like a 4-year-old who hates the peas on his plate.
Sure, the food court will move from the west side of the center, near the movie theater, to the east side. New retailers are being courted to open in the former food court space, though national chain Target has canceled plans to open in the mall. And Westfield wants to improve the light and visibility in the shopping center. All are much-needed improvements to the shopping center.
But it’s not nearly enough.
The center, which has more retailers leaving than opening, is an anchor in downtown. And not in a good way. The city has announced an aggressive effort to address K Street mall, a collection of badly damaged buildings and many closed shops, to help jump-start development on the several blocks between the Sacramento Convention Center and Westfield Downtown Plaza.
Downtown Plaza also desperately deserves attention from city officials and downtown leaders. Without some much-needed prodding and tough love, many residents will hate going to the center that will become nothing more than an extension of K Street’s woes.
The Westfield Group invested about $270 million at the Westfield Galleria at Roseville. That’s big-time dollars, but, to be fair, the center continues to exceed expectations with high-end retailers and high-income shoppers.
We cannot ask for, let alone expect, a comparable investment at the downtown mall, which caters more to blue-collar and state workers, and generates about half as much sales-tax revenue as Arden Fair. But the current plan for the downtown center fails to generate excitement about the project.
Certainly, the cash-strapped city needs to set aside some dollars for the downtown center’s expansion and face-lift, but Westfield also needs to detail much-larger plans than its modest project. Otherwise, the city — and community — will be investing money in a still often-overlooked shopping center.
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