Cabbage Patch to 'Urban Village' : $700-Million MacArthur Place on Former Santa Ana Farm to Include Office, Retail, Residential Uses

Times Staff Writer

When developer Roger Torriero wanted to buy a 66-acre parcel in Santa Ana, he opened negotiations with Roy Sakioka, patriarch of the family that owned much of the land, with a fine piece of sashimi.

Then, as the story goes, Sakioka, a 90-year-old farmer who immigrated from Japan in 1913, agreed to sell his 53 acres of cabbage and cucumber fields.

"Believe me, that didn't seal the deal," said George Sakioka, the patriarch's grandson, referring to the sashimi. "We appreciated the offering of the fine albacore . . . but the way we do business, a deal has to make economic sense."

The Sakiokas, who own more than $200 million worth of undeveloped land and hold ground leases on high-rise office and housing projects, got $41 million in cash and a 27% interest in their Santa Ana fields plus a 27% interest in an adjacent 13 acres.

The 66-acre site is now being developed into one of the largest mixed-use projects in Orange County. Grading and site work will begin this week, with completion estimated in 10 to 15 years at a cost of $700 million to $1 billion.

Known as MacArthur Place, and located on the northeastern corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Main Street, the project was master-planned by M. Paul Friedberg & Partners of New York to encompass 4.5 million square feet of office, hotel, retail, dining, entertainment and residential space.

BGS Partners is owner/developer of the 66 acres. BCE Development Inc. (BCED), affiliated with Bell Canada Enterprises, is the managing general partner.

BCED will develop the first office building--an 11-story, $50-million structure, designed by Gensler & Associates/Architects and built by the Austin Co.--starting in August, simultaneously with the housing.

MacArthur Place also will have 400 condominium units to be rented as apartments. Torriero is a principal in Griffin/Related Properties, which plans to develop the housing. Griffin and the Sakiokas are limited partners in BGS.

Referring to the housing, Griffin executive Matthew Witte said, "This part of the project will be unique for Orange County, because the housing will be built on top of 150,000 square feet of retail space."

The condos will be above ground-level stores in several mid-rise buildings on 11 acres, with parks on one side and office buildings on the other.

The developers are calling MacArthur Place "an urban village," but that primarily applies to the housing part, Witte said, "because it is the only place in the whole project where there will be housing and retail."

The vice president of office centers for BCED, Murray Hay, said, "When we think about it as an urban village, we see a mix of uses, with people living and working in the area instead of feeding into traffic patterns."

Traffic was an issue that barred other developments, including a 20,500-seat sports arena called Westdome, from the site, but traffic remains an issue despite unanimous City Council approval of MacArthur Place.

Richard Merritt, a resident who describes himself as "the ramrod behind the (1986) protests against Westdome," said, "Roger (Torriero) is a good psychologist. He won us over by having those meetings."

Those meetings were held by Torriero on a regular basis after he became interested in the site and enlisted BCED's participation. Torriero formed what became known as the Stakeholders Council, composed of residents with a stake in the neighborhood. The meetings were held to keep the residents up to date on the development and answer their questions.

Vicki Uehli, project manager with the city's Community Development Agency, said Torriero convinced the residents that his was a different type of development, "so he overrode any objections." The project sailed through the approval processes with no public dissent, Uehli noted.

Merritt said he and other residents disapproved of earlier attempts by other developers to build a sports arena on the site. "But traffic was the big factor, and it will still be unbelievable," he said. "The city has given us a lot of ideas about how traffic will be improved, but I doubt that I will see any solutions in my lifetime."

Traffic is already congested in the area, he added, and it will only grow worse with the 15,000 jobs expected to be created with MacArthur Place.

Traffic also concerns Helen Brown, executive director of Civic Center Barrio, a Santa Ana group born in the 1970s to develop housing for barrio residents displaced by redevelopment. MacArthur Place is in a redevelopment area.

Criticizes Project

Said Brown:

"This is the most ill-planned project I ever saw. The 55 Freeway dumps into MacArthur Boulevard. Hutton Place, with its office towers, dumps into MacArthur. So do the industrial buildings and condominiums already there. And now they have the nerve to go in there and put in 400 new housing units? We'll spend 45 minutes to go one mile."

She is less critical of the traffic than the housing, however. She said none of it will be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents, though Santa Ana suffers from a severe shortage of low-income rental housing. The monthly rentals will range from about $600 to $1,100.

Crystal Sims of the Legal Aid Foundation in Santa Ana said, "There is concern with a lot of housing advocates that the city is not spending what it should on low-income housing."

Generally, 20% of the housing in a redevelopment area is reserved for people with low incomes, but Uehli said:

"As MacArthur Place develops, it will generate a tax increment, and 20% will be set aside for low-income housing. So they (the developers) are not bound to develop it on their site. The tax increment will benefit low-income housing citywide."

City Manager David N. Ream said, "First-time ownership is something we're trying to promote in various other projects in the city, but the (MacArthur Place) apartments will provide a much needed amenity in the southeastern part of the city."

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