ANAHEIM : Merchants Refuse to Give Up on Plaza

From any angle, Anaheim Plaza resembles a ghost town. From the parking lot empty of cars but filled with potholes, to the long-vacant corridor inside the mall, to the few scattered shoppers, the place is nearly desolate and silent.

Now a few dozen merchants have joined forces to save the plaza, collecting about 7,000 signatures from customers and nearby residents who also have enlisted in the crusade.

"We're not going to give up on this mall," said Margaret Mire, a hairdresser at Regis Hairstylists. "This mall is a good mall. It's in a good location. It just needs to be improved."

The merchant group, called Concerned Merchants for the Betterment of Anaheim Plaza, was formed just over a month ago to lobby the City Council to help promote the mall and improve the area's image, said John Machiaverna, group president.

In fact, the city has tentative plans to renovate a 350-acre area that includes the mall and is bounded by Euclid and Loara streets, Crescent Avenue and Interstate 5. A public workshop on the project will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Brookhurst Community Center, and a decision on the project is planned for June 12.

While support to redevelop the area seems to be running high, plaza merchants want to be assured that the plan will include new owners who are serious about improving the tattered mall.

The 35-year-old mall, owned by the California State Teachers Retirement System, is for sale. But Machiaverna said the owners are biding their time as county property values escalate and mall shops vacate.

"This mall is worth just as much to them empty as it is full," he said.

Management for the owners agreed in part that improving the mall, where 20 of 67 shops are vacant, was no longer a concern.

Ed Kelso, general manager of the mall, said, "If we were not for sale, we would be talking about renovating and expanding the center to an upscale operation."

Lisa Stipkovich, community development director, said the city hopes to find a new owner that would be willing to "take some risks" to remodel the center, because the current owners are treating it "as an asset, rather than a development."

Members of the merchants group say they will continue to collect signatures on petitions at nearly every mall shop until final decisions on the plan are made.

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