When it opened in 1982, Long Beach Plaza was touted as the centerpiece of urban renewal, a six-square-block mall that would help turn a frog of a downtown into a prince of commerce.
Eight years later, the dream of a vibrant, prosperous downtown is only beginning to take shape. The plaza, meanwhile, still awaits a kiss of transformation.
Built with the help of $35 million in government aid, the massive redevelopment project at 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard has proved at best a modest success. The plaza has never been able to overcome downtown Long Beach’s reputation as dangerous and dowdy, nor has it attracted upscale shops.
You can find hot dog stands but no designer pizza; Oshman’s Sporting Goods but not Eddie Bauer.
The fortress-like mall of high ceilings and intimidating brick walls does have a clientele, but it tends to be tough-looking teen-agers and low-income residents of nearby neighborhoods. Long Beach’s more prosperous shoppers continue to flock over the city’s borders to malls in Lakewood and Cerritos--which are closer to many middle-class neighborhoods than the plaza and offer more fashionable stores.
Long Beach Plaza’s square-foot sales volume ranked well below the county average last year and sales even fell slightly from 1988 to 1989. Of 135 specialty stores, 17 are vacant.
Lisa Silagy, the plaza’s marketing director, conceded that “we can’t possibly beat” the competition from suburban malls. Undeterred, however, she said that in the last six months the plaza has launched a direct mail campaign to lure more affluent shoppers who live in outlying parts of Long Beach.
Although security was also increased during the past year, a shooting in the mall the weekend before Christmas did not help the plaza’s image. Two people were injured when a young man pulled a gun and fired in what police believe was a gang-related incident.
Still, shoppers did not seem too concerned, said Buffums manager Karen Dessel, who noted that that sales picked up the final two days before Christmas.
The mall’s owners, JMB Properties Co. of Chicago, have been trying to sell the plaza for the past three years and the city is working with potential buyers, hoping that a new owner will jazz up the mall and attract more lucrative business.
LONG BEACH PLAZA, LONG BEACH * Year opened: 1982
* Retail square footage: 676,000
* Anchor stores: Buffums, JC Penney, Montgomery Ward
* Number of stores: 138
* 1989 sales tax paid to city: Estimated $682,000
* % of city’s total sales tax revenue--2.3%
* Most memorable feature: Fortress-like brick walls give the appearance of a prison.