On Sept. 26, Orange County will have a total of 14 million square feet of shopping mall space--6.4 square feet for each of the 2.1 million people who live here.
A big chunk of the space will have been added by the just-completed, $90-million renovation and enlargement of Main Place/Santa Ana mall, which more than doubles its retail space to 1.15 million square feet.
Orange County's increasing mall space is 36% more than San Diego County, where 10.5 million square feet of retail space yields only 4.7 square feet per person.
The renovation could transform one of Orange County's sleepier, low-grossing malls into the second-best performer in the county, with sales reaching $200 million by 1989, analysts say.
The 29-year-old dowager of area shopping centers, formerly known as Fashion Square, has become the latest to undergo a long-overdue face lift. With the renovation, Main Place/Santa Ana joins Fashion Island, South Coast Plaza, Brea Mall and the Mall of Orange--all of them hoping that recent or planned expansions will help lure more customers in what some believe has become an overbuilt retail market.
The Main Place/Santa Ana renovation--which will be unveiled at a Sept. 26 grand opening--culminates more than 10 years of planning.
The almost-all-new mall will have been transformed from 32 lackluster shops into a flashy, open-air mall with room for 170 enclosed shops--85 of them already leased--surrounded by waterfalls, marble hallways and neon art.
Restaurants, a gourmet produce store and an 18-unit food court are being added. The three-level, salmon-and-turquoise center will have a six-screen movie theater. Other tenants include a children's furniture shop and Roger's Garden, a 25,000-square-foot store selling plants, antiques and home accessories.
In fact, about all that remains of the old, 550,000-square-foot center is Bullock's, which is undergoing its own $10-million face lift. The space formerly occupied by I. Magnin has been split into smaller specialty shops.
In its place are two new retailers--Nordstrom and JW Robinson's--that will open their new stores Friday. At least initially, observers agree, all three anchors will find themselves competing for customers' dollars with nearby sister stores in their respective chains.
Bruce Nordstrom, co-chairman of the Seattle-based chain, admitted in a pre-opening gathering Wednesday that with Nordstrom stores at South Coast Plaza and the Brea mall, "They will compete." But even with the new Santa Ana store taking some shoppers from its two Orange County sisters, Nordstrom expects sales at all three to show an upswing because of high shopper demand.
"The question is: How many dollars are there in Orange County to spend?" asks Robert A. Peterson, a vice president and retail specialist with Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate Services. He says the answer is plenty.
"Orange County buying power is accelerating faster than in the state or the nation. The marketplace is growing and there is lots of disposable income," Peterson says. Add that to Main Place's "color and excitement" and a prime location on Main Street near the Santa Ana Freeway.
"It will start to take on the characteristics of Bristol Street near South Coast Plaza," he says, especially after a planned off ramp from the Santa Ana Freeway is built.
Skeptics Voice Concerns
Others aren't as certain. "The dollar investment in revitalizing regional centers is not proportionate to the consumer dollars available," said Alfred Gobar, a Brea-based real estate consultant. Another factor, he said, is the growing popularity of discount stores--such as the Price Club and Home Club--which Gobar calls "a black hole that can suck in a lot of consumer dollars."
Even so, the mall's developers--Cincinnati-based JMB/Federated Realty Associates and Henry T. Segerstrom--are optimistic. Plans call for development of a $300-million office and hotel complex surrounding Main Place by the same partnership.
Although sales at the center last year dropped 2.8% to a comparatively paltry $35 million--ranking it 12th among Orange County's 14 malls--general manager Dave Longbine hopes that will change.
"We're going to create our own niche in the market and capitalize on other (malls') customers, as well," Longbine says. That means drawing shoppers from Anaheim Hills, Villa Park and Tustin as well as the Mall of Orange, Brea and South Coast Plaza.
To help bring in those hoardes of eager buyers, opening day festivities will feature balloons, wire artists and appearances by baseball stars Steve Garvey and Wally Joyner.
Other Malls React
With all the fuss and dollars that are being poured in, Santa Ana's neighbors aren't taking any chances. Several have already completed their own renovations. Nearby Brea Mall just announced a $125-million facelift that will add two major stores and, according to the mall, bring sales to $400 million by 1990--a spectacular figure that would surpass Main Place's projections.
While some competitors might admit privately to being worried by the increased competition, all publicly insist that the renovated Main Place is not much cause for concern.
"We've announced we've spending a couple million on redoing our interior," says Douglas Milner, general manager at the Mall of Orange.
Main Place "will affect us to some degree through this year and perhaps into the next," but after the "curiosity factor" declines, "we'll recover from it," he says.
James Charter, Brea general manager says: "People shop at more than one mall. They'll shop at Santa Ana, they'll shop at Brea and they'll shop at South Coast. As long as they make plastic, it'll continue."
Times staff writers John O'Dell and Vicky Clepper contributed to this story.