In the midst of a slow economy, officials cheered the last portion of concrete to be poured at Triangle Square, a 200,000-square-foot retail center in the heart of downtown that promises to boost the city's already-enviable retail market.
The $62-million project, expected to be completed in May, will hold what the project manager called "unique" retail stores, a movie theater with eight screens, restaurants, art galleries, an underground supermarket and 1,150 parking spaces.
Officials hope the development will pump a bit more vitality into the city's sagging sales-tax revenue, which is usually more stable than in most cities because of the success of South Coast Plaza.
"I think in the long term it's going to help substantially, but not to the point where it's going to be a major turnaround in retail sales," City Manager Allan L. Roeder said. "It'll be a modest gain, but not anything to turn around what we've seen in the last year."
But the current economic downturn that has forced the city to whittle its budget could also check the optimism of Triangle Square's developers, who have been working on the project for the past five years.
"When you go into a project like this, it's difficult to time things perfectly," said project manager Gerald Klein. "This is a five-year project and the economy is a whole lot different now from the time we started. Even two years ago was different and (who's to say what will happen) six or eight months from now?
"The timing could be just about right for this project," he said.
With plastic still lining escalators and workers with jackhammers kicking up dust, Triangle Square is undergoing its finishing touches, which will include trellises of bougainvillea plants, a town square area with seating for 500 and elevators to take customers to the center's seven levels.
Marina Market, the second to be built in Southern California--the first is in Marina del Rey--will carry gourmet food items as well as brands carried by most grocery stores, leasing agent Richard J. Shapiro said. The market will occupy 40,000 square feet on the bottom level 20 feet below ground.
The Edwards Theater chain has signed on with an eight-screen movie theater covering 37,000 square feet.
"The main ingredient is to have a nighttime anchor tenant as well as a major daytime anchor tenant," Shapiro explained as he led visitors through the center's four separate buildings.
Many of the stores and restaurants will stay open late to cater to theater crowds and the supermarket may be open 24 hours, he said.
The site has gone through considerable changes since the City Council approved the project two years ago. Along with that approval came the decision to condemn 13 small businesses that had long occupied the triangle bounded by Newport and Harbor boulevards and 19th Street.
The second-story area where Tuesday's "topping off" party took place will be a restaurant--the same corner where Carr's Feed Store once stood. It is in the heart of the city's redevelopment area containing some of its oldest buildings.
The triangle location, with its close access to the Costa Mesa Freeway, also provides one of the best areas and views for the kinds of stores and restaurants that will lease there, Shapiro said, adding that one retailer, which he would not name, will open its only Southern California store there.
"This is the only location in Southern California that meets their standards," he said.
But both he and Klein emphasized that Triangle Square will not have department stores usually found in shopping malls.
"We're searching nationally for retailers that do upbeat marketing," Klein said. "We're looking for people who have little or no exposure to Southern California, people who are doing well even in this economy."
The project is a joint venture of Triangle Square Associates & Capital and Counties USA Inc.