Developer says outlet mall finally coming together
By Jim Shilander It’s been 20 years in the making, but residents of San Clemente are finally about to see construction begin at Marblehead, specifically on the Outlets at San Clemente Plaza mall. Approximately 150 residents took time Saturday to tour the grounds. They were led by developer Steve Craig, of Craig Realty Group, and Mayor Tim Brown. With much of the grading work done on the site, the building of shops and structures will soon begin. Residents got a first-hand look at the project, a long-time source of mystery and perhaps concern for many.
The project was initially brought to the city in 1994 and a plan for the outlets was approved in 1999. The plans have seen changes since, such as the elimination of a movie theater complex and the addition of a boutique hotel in a later phase. Craig said while there had been changes to both the plan and business climate since its approval, opportunities for the city, and for business, remain real. “This is probably the most important project in the state of California and west of the Mississippi this year,” Craig told residents. “This has been a long time coming. Hopefully, you’ll be very proud of what we accomplish here.” The project, which in its final form will have over 580,000 square-feet of retail space, will bring in thousands, mostly from outside the country who “want a piece of the rock (America),” Craig said. He expects the first stores to open in 14 to 15 months, in time for the 2015 holiday season.
Craig told residents that his company believes more than two-thirds of the mall’s business will come from outside a 50-mile radius. He noted that the Citadel Outlets outside of Los Angeles, which his company took over in 2001, gets 60 percent of its business from non-American sources. Busloads of tourists from Asia, Australia and Europe, he said, will come in for several hours to shop, he said. Craig said the project’s retail spaces are “nearly 100 percent” spoken for . Potential restaurants, he said, usually come in later in the process. Craig said he also hopes to provide a meeting space at the hotel that could be used for city and community events. Providing space for a surfing history museum in the retail space is also a priority, he said. There are a number of unique qualities to the project as well, Craig noted.
The shops will include elements of the city’s signature Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, including red-tiled roofs and stucco finishes. The shopping experience itself, Craig said, will likely be similar to what consumers find at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, with open air shops.
“This project is one a kind,” Craig said. “There’s probably nothing like it in the world, at least that I can think of.”
Many of the infrastructure improvements are being undertaken by the Lehman Brothers, the owners of the 308-lot residential project planned for the site. This will eventually include the completion of West Avenida Vista Hermosa through to Avenida Pico, which is currently slated for later this year. Lehman intends to sell the property to a developer who will actually build the homes. Traffic mitigation measures that were a part of the 1999 approval, Craig said, had been accounted for.
However, a number of issues still need to be finalized as construction starts. Craig did not address potential Interstate 5 signage for the outlets. An initial sign permit was approved by the then-City Council in 2008, but was overturned in May 2008 as a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. Craig said the freeway signs “were not the highest priority at this point,” but instead something to be addressed as the project gets started. The developer said his company is talking with Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority about minimizing the impacts of the I-5 widening project, which is scheduled to be done at the same time the mall construction is ongoing. Discussions about increasing the number of train stops at North Beach station to try and get shoppers coming in by rail have not yet taken place, Craig said. There is also an ongoing question about the impact the outlets will have on the city’s downtown. There have been discussions about a shuttle service that would take shoppers onto Avenida Del Mar or other areas of the city. Many residents voiced concern over the height of the project, which at one point was higher than 50 feet. According to Craig, that height was for the theater, which is no longer a part of the project. The retail replacement space sits at 42 feet. Not having the theater also means the mall can close earlier, Craig said. Craig said he was glad to see the interest from the community.
“The questions and the thoughtfulness were pretty impressive,” he said. “People are very much interested in the project and overall very supportive of it. I think it was a great representation of the various neighborhoods of San Clemente.”
Craig noted that those curious about specifics in the plan could review it, as a public document, at the city’s building department. Mayor Tim Brown said he was also pleased by the turnout of residents. “I think it’s clear to see a lot of folks are interested in what is going on at the site,” he said. “It looks like work’s going to commence and what’s been a mystery for a long time will become a reality. As a city we’re watching it closely to make sure they do what they say they’re going to do.” While the signage issue is not settled, the outlets will have to abide by the same restrictions as other businesses in San Clemente, Brown said. “We don’t want to have a project that won’t be successful but we have to assess what the impact will be on residents, because ultimately this is a very strong residential community,” the mayor explained. Brown believes that part of the mystery for many was that the project had been proposed and approved before many people had come to the city. This might have led to misconceptions or assumptions, he said. “There’s a big gap in the information and we’re trying to fill that in,” Brown said. “You’ll have different feelings, folks who like and folks who don’t like it.” Mary and Scott Owens moved to San Clemente seven years ago. Their home, located above Broadmoor, will have a clear view of the project. While the project was approved before their move, Mary said the couple followed the development before they arrived. Scott said they are primarily concerned with the height of the buildings but added he was impressed by the presentation. “We can see the whole property from our house, so it’s nice to be able to come out and walk around,” Scott said.
Steve Aleshire, a 15-year resident, said he was looking for a status update on the project “rather than rumors.” Another resident of the area above Broadmoor, Aleshire said his family’s biggest concern is the traffic that might be added to the area. “It looks like the planning has been very well done. The one concern you can’t answer is the impact it will have on (Avenida) Del Mar. They’ve done a great job renovating Del Mar and rejuvenating it over the last 10 or 15 years, and it’d be a shame to see that deteriorate.”