Faced with stiff competition from other shopping venues, more and more Southern California mall operators are searching for ways to set themselves apart.
Some are expanding existing properties and adding outdoor venues designed to entice more shoppers to dine and lounge. Some are accommodating new retail tenants who are planning store promotions suitable only for their mall's design. And some are building brand-new centers with bold architectural schemes designed to lure consumers.
The moves come amid continuing evidence that California has an abundance of malls, making it the undisputed shopping center capital of the world. According to a recent survey by the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, the Golden State has 663.7 million square feet of shopping center selling space, 12.7% of the national total and far more than any other state. California had 5,774 shopping centers in 1997, up from 5,664 the previous year, while construction began on 59 new centers last year, with a total value of $361 million.
But not everyone thinks the state has too many malls.
"I think there's too much bad retail space and not enough good retail space," said John Konarski, the shopping center council's economist. "Retailing in California is extremely competitive and--as the competition expands--mall owners will have to find ways to differentiate their properties. Southern California can accommodate more creative shopping center designs because of the warm and dry weather."
One such idea has sprung from the creators of a new Mission Viejo shopping center, who are hoping that their unusual design will help draw and keep shoppers. Their center, called Kaleidoscope, will open July 1.
Designed by Los Angeles-based architectural firm Altoon & Porter, the center has a name that suggests ever-changing symmetrical patterns. The mix, in this case, is the design and color differences in each storefront.
Unlike most shopping centers, Kaleidoscope is an open-air facility. It's designed to stand out amid the suburban sameness of the architecture in the Mission Viejo area, said Gary Dempster, a partner at Altoon & Porter.
"We wanted to develop a center that is a place to see and be seen," Dempster said.
Another new open-air shopping center, dubbed The Block at Orange, is under construction in the city of Orange and is set to open by November.
The Block is the brainchild of the Washington-based Mills Corp., operator of the giant Ontario Mills mall. Like Ontario Mills, The Block will have many entertainment venues--nightclubs and a Sega Gameworks electronic playground among them. However, Mills executives say, The Block is a new retail concept for them because it incorporates a new design concept. The roofless facility will have open spaces for plaza lounging, trees and foliage and design features such as 90-foot totem-like icons with internal night lights.
The outdoor-mall concept is already a proven success at the Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles. That center is accommodating a new retail tenant that hopes to attract shoppers with unusual promotions.
The Discovery Channel store, which opened at Century City last week by showing off some live Bengal tigers, will be hosting "skywatch" events in the future. Discovery staffers plan to allow shoppers to view the night sky from the roofless retail center through store telescopes.
"A mall can distinguish itself with special store events like this," said Linda Mariano, the Berkeley-based store development director for Discovery.
The Northridge Fashion Center is trying to set itself apart with a 200,000-square-foot expansion due for completion by November. A 10-screen Pacific Theatres multiplex will occupy one-quarter of that new space. The balance will be an open-air retail village.
The enclosed mall was extensively damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The open-air extension is the mall's latest bid to build up sales.
"There will be unique shops, restaurants and ambience," said Annette Bethers, the mall's marketing director.
George White can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.