Woe to Wow in Long Beach : New Marina Pacifica Could Help Redesign City's Economy


Marina Pacifica, a shopping center that has symbolized retailing's woes in Long Beach, is now one of the city's best hopes for a retail revival.

Pacifica was expected to rejuvenate retailing in the city when it opened in 1976. However, the mall was plagued by design flaws. A confusing layout made it difficult to find shops, and most of the entrances faced a marina instead of the parking lot and Pacific Coast Highway, the main access street.

The design was even featured in retail conference seminars on how not to build a shopping center.

"It was ill-conceived because it was designed as if most of the customers would arrive by boat," said Avi Lerner, a member of the partnership that acquired the center in July 1995.

Pacifica had an 80% vacancy rate at the time of the purchase. The new owners retained three mall businesses--two restaurants and an AMC theater--and sought new tenants while carrying out a redesign.

The reconfiguration was completed in October and the Pacifica now has a Ralphs supermarket, a Barnes & Noble bookstore and a Strouds. It also has a Wow multimedia superstore, which includes a Good Guys consumer electronics store and a Tower Records. And AMC is expanding its six-theater complex, doubling the number of screens.

Such retail development is particularly important to Long Beach in the wake of major layoffs in aerospace industries and government plans to close the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in 1997.

Retail attractions can complement the convention and tourism business in the city, which will include a new downtown aquarium in 1998, said Jack Kyser, senior economist at the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County.

"Retail development is critical to the city's economic health," Kyser said.

Such development is needed to reverse declining retail sales in the city, down 6.9% between 1991 and 1996, according to the California Retail Survey. Sales in the city of Los Angeles rose 1.9% over the same period.

Ironically, Long Beach was a major retail center in the 1920s and '30s. Retail development became less important after World War II when Navy operations and defense industries grew.

In recent years, Long Beach residents have had to drive to Lakewood, Torrance, Cerritos and Costa Mesa to reach major malls with department stores.

In another bid to get residents to shop near their homes, a partnership recently acquired, renovated and redesigned the Los Altos Shopping Center at Bellflower Boulevard and Stearns Street. It's now known as Los Altos MarketCenter.

Like Marina Pacifica, Los Altos was failing partly because of design flaws, said John Hopkins of Hopkins Real Estate Group in Newport Beach. Hopkins and Cousins Properties Inc., an Atlanta-based developer, are the new owners.

Sears, Circuit City and Comp USA are among the new Los Altos tenants that opened for business in October. A Borders bookstore began operating this month and a Bristol Farms supermarket will open soon.

Meanwhile, the city of Long Beach is encouraging new retail development around Pine Avenue, its successful downtown business district.

"The city has done a good job of promoting retail development," Kyser said. "If these projects are successful, other retailers will develop an interest in Long Beach."

George White can be reached via fax at (213) 237-7837.

Wednesday: San Diego's economy

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