Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Beloved Mall Is Finding New Life updated

 http://www.latimes.com: May 4, 2018

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Tuesday afternoon in the blogosphere and do we have news.  By now you have all heard of Mr. Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran Nuclear Agreement.  This agreement, concluded in 2015, restricted Iran's nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.  Mr. Trump's decision is contrary to what his own advisors, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, have told him.  In essence, they said that Iran is following through on its treaty obligations.  However, the president believes that the Iranians are violating the spirit of the agreement.  Mr. Trump hopes that by pulling the U.S. out of the treaty and reimpose sanctions, it will gain more favorable terms.  Or his whole strategy could backfire, isolating the U.S. and, by extension, its ally Israel.  Only time and a lot of extremely careful negotiating will tell if this approach is successful or not.  Moving on to today's subject, dead malls.

Once upon a time, when Yours Truly was a wee lass, Blogger used to shop at the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles, California.  The Mall, designed by Jon Jerde and Associates and opened in 1985, was the place to be.  It featured boutiques with all the latest fashions, a multi-screen cinema, a sprawling food court, and a Barnes and Noble.  However, those halcyon days are long gone and the one time epicenter for life on L.A.'s Westside is headed for humble end.

The Westside Pavilion, once featured in the movie Clueless and the late Tom Petty video Free Fallin', now stands eerily quiet.  The only serious mall goers are local college students like Emma Halbert and her friend Kamanapopo Bednorz who sit in the food court, undistracted by passers by, and finish their homework.  The free WiFi is their attraction.

Melissa Etehad writes in her Los Angeles Times article "Once L.A.s hottest mall, the Westside Pavilion is dying and shoppers are bummed,"It was also a place neighbors fought against for years but came to cherish when Nordstrom opened one of its first stores in the West Los Angeles area."  That Nordstrom was Blogger mum's favorite place to shop. Unfortunately, this Mall has fallen victim to the same malaise as other American malls.

The Westside Pavilion fell victim to changing consumer habits and nearby competition--Westfield Century City and the Third Street Promenade--both underwent massive renovations to adapt to the changing retail environment.  Blogger would like to add the Beverly Center, near West Hollywood California, is also undergoing major renovation to better compete with the nearby Grove at Farmer's Market.  In the meantime, the Westside Pavilion is financially hurting and struggling to reconfigure itself.

The Mall's downfall continued last year when Nordstrom shuttered its doors and moved to Westfield Centruy City.  This past March its last anchor store, Macy's, also departed.  The Westside Pavilion is facing certain doom.

Ms. Etehad reports, "...In March, mall landlord Hudson Pacific announced that by mid-2021 most of the barren three-story structure will be transformed into creative office spaces for media and technology companies, a befitting change as demand for office spaces in West Los Angeles continues to increase, but marking an end of an era for the longtime famed indoor mall."  That does not sound like the worst possible fate.  It seems that the landlord is following the same pattern as other retail mall landlords are using, adapting the building into commercial space.  Better than a date with the wrecking ball.  

Civic leaders and those in the know say that "...the Westside Pavilions rebirth into office spaces is an example of West Los Angeles' growing appeal to media and technology companies."  However, longtime residents and shoppers have a different opinion.

Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz told Ms. Etehad,

Opponents eventually got used to the mall, and now it's an icon and part of the neighborhood,.... The mall gave us a little sense of community, a place to go and meet people.

The Westside Tavern restaurant and the 12-screen Landmark Theater will be the only mall holdovers still open to the public.  That is some good news for longtime residents and shoppers who feel a twinge of nostalgia for the memories within.  Blogger recall one or two date nights at the Westside Pavilion but mostly, shopping trips.  At least the parking was free and plentiful (usually).  

What is happening to the Westside Pavilion is symptomatic of the state of American malls.  Melissa Etehad reports, "Over the last decade, malls nationwide have slowly been rotting away and eventually closing because of change in shopping tastes."

Another possibility is overdevelopment: The Third Street Promanade and Westfield Century City are a few short miles from the Westside Pavilion.  The Beverly Center is about three miles from The Grove.  Overdevelopment coupled with online shopping has forced retailers to shut their doors, forcing department anchors stores to either scale back operations or close.

Citing a 2017 shopping mall mangeagement report from IBISWorld, Ms. Etehad writes, "As a result, shopping revenue in the shopping mall industry has declined steadily over the last decade at around 1%, including a 2.5% decline in 2017,..."

This steady decline has driven developers and landlords to come up with creative solutions like converting malls into apartments, churches, schools, and office spaces.  The Westside Pavilion will remain open until mid-2021, however, it is already a shell of its former self.

Shoppers bustling about the tiled floors, bags in hand, while browsing, are long gone.  In their stead, are window shoppers casually walking by the empty storefronts.  The once cavernous car park, once filled to capacity, is now nearly empty.  The remaining retailers desperately try to attract customers with large banners advertising, "50% Off" or "Buy one get one 50%."

Yours Truly does not mourn the loss of the Westside Pavilion.  Instead, Blogger takes a more philosophical outlook.  Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.  This is life.  When the Mall first opened, it was an exciting moment.  Here wa

s this place where Yours Truly could quickly nip over an buy something.  Unlike the Beverly Center, it felt welcoming and remarkably airy for an indoor mall.  One memory that sticks out, was taking the youngest nephew for some play time.  Near the food court was a children's play area.  The youngest nephew would run and climb all over the place, while Yours Truly would sit back with a cup of coffee, keeping an eye on him.  Later we went to the pet store where he could pet the puppies.  Yours Truly has not been back since then and the youngest nephew is almost a teenage boy.

Fond memories aside, the Westside Paviion did not always hold a cherished place in the communal heart.  Prior to its 1985 grand opening, the landlord faced great opposition from local residents who saw the project as the kind of development that create more traffic congestion and parking issues.  Terri Tippit, the chairperson for the Westside neighborhood council and longtime area resident told, Melissa Etehad, "for a long time the three-story, block-long structure felt like an 'intrusion.'"  Ms. Tippit said, The local residents fought long and hard when the concept first came up.

Ms. Tippit worked alongside former L.A. City Councilmember Zev Yaroslavsky and the mall's landlord to come up with a solution to mitigate traffic around the mall.  Mr. Yaroslavsky said,

The whole project was a shock to the neighborhood,.... People were not happy about it.

Fortunately, the situation began to improve by the late eighties and early nineties.  The residential streets were re-designated as permit parking only, a 1,000 parking spaces and a two-tier pedestrian and auto bridge were built when the mall expanded across the intersection of Pico and Westwood boulevards.  

In 2007, the Landmark Theater opened a 12-screen cinema.  Not long after the traffic issue was finally dealt with that residents began to embrace the mall, making it an integral part of West L.A.  Despite its popularity, the Westside Pavilion was never really able to adapt itself to the rapidly changing retail landscape.

Chris Calott, professor of architecture and real estate at UC Berkeley spoke with the Times about the Westside Pavilion.  He estimates "that up to 40% of shopping malls could close within the next three to five years."  Prof. Calott believes that "the mall's transformation reflects the growing demand of office space space from municipalities and developers across California."  He said,

We are at a point in the Bay Area and Los Angeles where both areas have a particularly high demand for office space,.... Office development pays a lot more in taxes than residential or Commerical development.  So from a development standpoint, that will deliver the sweetest revenue return.

Melissa Etehad reports, "The transformation project is estimated to cost around $425 million to $475 million."

Hudson Pacific, whose specialty is developing and operating West Coast commercial properties will serve as the the developers and oversee the daily operations as the property's manager.  Former Westside Pavilion landlord and owner Macerich also contributed to the new joint venture with Hudson Pacific, retaining 25 percent ownership.

Some of the mall's neighbors are not thrilled that the new scheme does not include housing, and are concerned that the conversion to office space will increase traffic and change the culture of the Rancho Park community.

UCLA urban planning professor and Rancho Park resident Evelyn Blumberg told the Los Angeles Times,

It's an area that is accessible by public transit, and so there's an assumption that it could lead to a thriving community and be easy access to markets and potential employees,...

However Prof. Blumberg added that she was personally disappointed that the proposed development does not incorporate housing.  She continued,

Housing is becoming so expensive.  It's an ideal location for transit, and it should be accompanied by housing that includes affordable units as well.

Hudson Pacific executive Vice President for development and capital investments Chris Barton told the  Times, "...although the developer didn't consider housing as an option for the mall, it is dedicated to addressing community members' concerns."  Mr. Barton said,

We are actively studying current and future conditions regarding traffic, and we are prepared to work with the city and community to ensure there is no impact,...

Terri Tippit and Zev Yaroslavsky reflected on their role in writing the mall's history, they are proud about its siginificance for the residents.  Mr. Yaroslavsky told the Times,

Back then, I would have never imagined the mall could close.  And if you told me people would be upset or sad, I would have told that impossible...

The mall was controversial during my election in 1989.  I didn't do well with voters who lived in the the streets behind the Westside Pavilion.

Even Ms. Tippit, who was originally opposed to the mall, feels a twinge of sadness over the mall's demise.  She fondly recalls how in recent years, she and her 12-year-old granddaughter would walk, together, to the mall, "a bonding activity she said would have otherwise been impossible."  Ms. Tippit said,

We walk together and chat on the way to the mall and watch movies,...

These are moments you can't buy and can't do if you drive...

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