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Mall Owners Seek to Put Redevelopment Plans on Hold

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 11 -- After months of community workshops, the "reimagination" of Santa Monica Place may be coming to a screeching halt as developers grapple with the departure of one of the mall’s two anchor stores.

At the request of the Macerich Company, which owns the struggling indoor mall Downtown, City staff on Monday advised the City Council to indefinitely halt the ongoing -- and at times, controversial -- community outreach program that has garnered input from more that 3,000 residents.

In addition, Macerich officials said they want to place on hold any economic impact reports and consulting work associated with the mall’s redevelopment and postpone a September report to the Planning Commission and City Council.

It remains unclear exactly what effect the closure of Robinsons-May -- which occupies 131,000 square feet of retail space -- will have on plans to tear down the mall and add housing, offices and a park above two floors of retail, Macerich representatives said.

“The fate of Robinsons-May will definitely impact the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place, we just don’t know how it’s going to impact it yet,” said Craig Rexroad, owner of Principle Executive Communications, which handles public relations for Macerich.

“At this point, we just have to wait and see how everything plays out,” he said.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) -- a vocal opponent of the ongoing public process to forge a plan -- welcomed the unexpected interruption.

“It’s good news all around,” said Diana Gordon, a spokesperson for the coalition. “It’s a potential win-win situation for residents, the City and Macerich.

“The key assumptions at the workshops are no longer operative if this space comes into play,” Gordon said. “To continue on that older model would be a useless exercise.”

There has been “no conjecture” about a list of potential buyers for the space, said Rexroad, who dispelled a recent report that Walmart could be a probable suitor.

“I’ve been to every meeting and can tell you one thing -- Wal-mart has definitely not been discussed,” he said.

There appears to be no change in plans for parent company Federated Department Stores Inc. to close the Robinsons-May location at Santa Monica Place by the beginning of next year, said Rexroad.

The anchor store at the mall is one of 68 stores Federated plans to close, including 14 in Southern California, company owners announced last month.

Although Federated officials plan to convert many of the other regional department stores it bought in the $11 billion May-Robinsons acquisition into Macy's -- another department store chain it owns -- Santa Monica Place already has a Macy’s store anchored on site.

Earlier this year, Macerich officials told the City that Macy's and Robinsons-May -- which have long-term leases that do not require them to pay rent -- had agreed to hold off on planned renovations.

“We have a window of opportunity right now, where they have agreed to do something they have not done anywhere in the United States, which is to shut down for two years,” Macerich CEO Art Coppola told the council in January.

If the anchor stores don’t see quick action, Coppola warned, “They will then put money back into the stores and our opportunity would be lost.”

The coalition would like to see Macerich “bid back the lease term” and rethink its redevelopment plan, which is too massive, Gordon said.

“That’s extremely valuable real estate that’s now in play,” Gordon said. “If Robinsons-May is in play, it could change the whole dynamic.”

The current decision to halt the public process comes more than six months after the council rejected a controversial proposal by Macerich to build three 21-story condo towers, an apartment building, an office complex and a park above a podium of stores.

The council directed Macerich to start from scratch and indicated to staff that the project should be "substantially expedited."

The City co-sponsored four public workshops and seven small group meetings in March and April to gather community input on a vision for the 25-year-old mall.

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