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Anaheim’s GardenWalk Could Sprout in May

Times Staff Writer

Business owners in the Anaheim resort district have repeatedly heard about the grand plans for the 20-acre plot near Disneyland: a trio of luxury hotels, an array of high-end restaurants and shops, and a massive parking structure.

So excuse them if they’re just a little skeptical when officials say construction on the GardenWalk project could begin as early as May if the City Council approves updated plans March 28.

“We’ve been waiting so long for this,” said Hitesh Patel, owner of the Little Boy Blue Motel, which sits across the street from the undeveloped lot. “It’s exciting and it could bring a lot more people down here, but is it really going to happen?”

Yes, this time city officials are certain. After nearly a decade of false starts, GardenWalk is close to becoming a reality.

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“It’s your basic eight-year overnight success story,” said Bill Stone of San Diego-based Excel Realty Holdings, one of three developers to take over the $600-million project last year.

Plans once included movie theaters, an aquarium and an interactive discovery museum. The latest vision calls for an outdoor mall with about 80 restaurants and shops, three tony hotels, a 400-room timeshare, a high-end fitness center and a 3,200-space parking garage.

If the project takes shape as planned, upscale restaurants such as Roy’s and McCormick & Schmick’s and shops such as Banana Republic and White House/Black Market will open next fall.

And it will all happen as people start moving into some of the 9,000 condos, lofts and apartments in the nearby Platinum Triangle by Angel Stadium.

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“Having all these pieces of the puzzle finished in five to 10 years,” said Councilman Harry Sidhu, “I think you’ll see a little Manhattan right here in the middle of Orange County.”

It has been 10 years since $6 billion in public and private funds was invested in Anaheim’s resort district with hopes of revitalizing a cluttered neighborhood once known for its neon signs and campy hotels. The area around the stalled project has a new look with trimmed medians, towering palms, uniform signage and renovated hotels.

City officials envision GardenWalk as a place where local residents and visitors to Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center or Angel Stadium can spend a few hours eating or shopping. For hotel proprietors, it is an answer to their guests’ fine-dining and shopping needs.

“We’re always getting complaints that there’s no good places to eat or shop down here,” said Bill O’Connell, owner of Best Western Stovall’s Inn for more than 30 years. “Most of our guests shop at the Block of Orange or South Coast Plaza and go all the way to Newport Beach or Laguna Beach to eat.”

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Scott Bollens, a UC Irvine professor of urban planning, said the success of the Irvine Spectrum and the Block at Orange bodes well for GardenWalk.

“A lot of people like these places where they can park their car and go to these self-contained consumption centers and attraction zones,” he said. “Disneyland will no longer be out there on its own, surrounded by a bunch of rundown buildings.”

But Bollens said there’s a downside to developments such as GardenWalk that rise from the rubble and help transform a neighborhood’s character almost overnight.

“They feel contrived,” he said. “The developers and the city are trying to manufacture something over a short amount of time that usually has to grow organically over a long period of time. Regular urban development takes a generation or two compared to these projects.”

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The 20-acre site once included Melodyland, a musical theater later converted into a megachurch, and the resort district’s look was distinctively Googie -- futuristic architecture from the 1950s and 1960s popular at coffee shops and bowling alleys. GardenWalk, with lush gardens, waterfalls and fountains, will have a contemporary theme.

Although she barely recognizes the resort district now, Anaheim Planning Director Sheri Vander Dussen is not complaining. “It was not a nice place to walk down the street before,” she said. “It feels like a resort area now.”

Developers say the long-awaited project will create thousands of jobs and generate more than $12 million annually for the city in sales and hotel tax revenue.

One day, GardenWalk could stand only a few hundred yards from the site of Disney’s possible third theme park at the southeast corner of Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue.

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As Vander Dussen said, “GardenWalk could be right in the middle of all the action.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

(Appeared in Orange County Edition)

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GardenWalk up for vote

The Anaheim City Council is scheduled to vote at the end of the month on the proposed 20-acre retail/entertainment complex near Disneyland.

*--* Use Area/units Retail,dining, entertainment 439,600 sq. ft. Hotels (three) 866 rooms ETDETDtotal Timeshare 400 units Parking 3,200 spaces

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Source: Excel Realty Holdings, LLC


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