At Stonewood Shopping Center in the heart of Downey there seem to be as many “Coming Soon” signs as there are functioning shops.
The signs, along with some occasional plaster dust and the newly painted salmon and turquoise decor, show a center in the throes of a comprehensive renovation that is expected to eventually double the number of stores.
The refurbished mall can claim one of the most uniquely decorated food courts in any Southland mall. Known as The Filling Station, the food court features eight restored vintage gasoline pumps sitting high on pedestals, fitting tribute to two key factors behind the emergence of the American shopping mall--the automobile and cheap gasoline. Three fast-food outlets are operating in the food court and three more are making last-minute preparations to open.
The Filling Station theme was developed by Keeva Kekst, the Cleveland architect chosen to renovate the mall by its owner, the firm of Hughes/Lyon Downey. After a lengthy, nationwide search, the pumps were found at a Colorado antique business and restored for the mall, said Larry Norton, Stonewood general manager.
Stonewood is a Cinderella story. Originally built 32 years ago, it was an open-air shopping center with some automotive service and parts dealers along the periphery of the property at the intersection of Firestone and Lakewood boulevards.
Then in 1986, Hughes/Lyon Downey purchased the aging shopping center and launched an ambitious renovation. “We identified it as a center that was under-utilized,” Norton said. “It has a very stable market, a lot of density and high income levels.” The 3.5-mile trade area has an average household income of $34,000, but the average is $50,000 within a one-mile radius of the center, he added.
City officials, realizing that they were losing precious sales tax dollars to other cities with malls that were more up-to-date than Stonewood, welcomed the effort. “What we saw was that Stonewood would continue to decline unless we did something to reverse the trend,” said Kenneth Farfsing, assistant city manager in charge of redevelopment.
The city agreed to give the developer 50% of any increase in sales tax revenue in the 12 years after the renovation. The city’s financial concession allowed the developer to secure financing more quickly, which in turn allowed the renovation to get off the ground more quickly, officials said.
The developers have turned the center into a mall under a glass roof, which features a fabric-covered glass dome in the center.
The biggest coup was luring a fourth major anchor store, the May Co. The new anchor, which joins JC Penney, Mervyn’s and the Broadway, opened in October.
Ultimately, there will be about 160 retailers and restaurants at Stonewood, up from the approximately 80 that used to occupy the space. Right now, Norton said, he has signed leases for 111 stores.
Norton said that in 1989 the center produced sales volume of approximately $170 a square foot. By the end of 1991, he said, that figure is expected to rise to $250 a square foot.
“The market is extremely good. . . . The nearest competition is 5.5 miles away in all directions. It was kind of a hole in the market place,” Norton said.
STONEWOOD SHOPPING CENTER, DOWNEY * Year opened: 1958
* Retail square footage: 945,000
* Anchor stores: Broadway, JC Penney, May Co., Mervyn’s
* Number of stores: 161
* 1989 sales tax paid to city: Estimated $1 million
* % of city’s total sales tax revenue--10.5%
* Most memorable feature: Food court with vintage gasoline pumps.