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Bella Terra is shedding Italian village look with aim to become Surf City’s communal backyard

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A rendering shows how Bella Terra will look after owner DJM Capital transforms the central plaza from an Italian village look to a blend of Southern California’s Spanish roots and Huntington Beach’s laid-back lifestyle.
(Courtesy of city of Huntington Beach)

Huntington Beach’s Bella Terra is getting a makeover.

The outdoor shopping mall is trading its Italian village aesthetic for a blend of Southern California’s Spanish roots and Huntington Beach’s laid-back lifestyle.

The goal of owner DJM Capital is to make it Surf City’s communal backyard.

To do that, the San Jose-based real estate company is stripping the mall’s amphitheater, or central plaza, of its facade colonnades and other ancient Roman and Greek architectural elements to allow more natural light and create a park-like setting.

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One of the main highlights of the re-imagined mall at 7777 Edinger Ave. is a beer and wine garden under a sycamore tree. Some restaurants have been re-positioned to funnel customers to that outdoor patio, called “The Garden.”

A stage was built under a wood pergola for live music and other entertainment. Children will have their own area called “Grassy Lawn,” which DJM hopes will inspire imagination and creativity.

The mall’s signature amphitheater tower also is getting a face lift with a hand-painted black-and-white mural by Huntington Beach artist Lana Fee Rasmussen. The mural draws inspiration from the Bolsa Chica wetlands, ocean life and citrus groves.

“Bella Terra has come a long way since the days of the Huntington Beach Mall; this is the next chapter in a storied project that we feel very fortunate to have played a role in,” said John Miller, chief executive officer of DJM Capital, which acquired the property in 2005 and also owns Pacific City, an outdoor mall along Pacific Coast Highway.

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A rendering shows Huntington Beach artist Lana Fee Rasmussen's hand-painted mural at the base of Bella Terra's signature amphitheater tower.
(Courtesy of city of Huntington Beach)

The company’s latest remake of the Bella Terra site marks a trend in which some malls are adding attractions and live experiences to draw more foot traffic as brick-and-mortar stores struggle to compete with online shopping.

Plans to breathe new life into the area have been in the works for 18 months. DJM’s chief retail officer, Stenn Parton, said it was time to reinvest in the property and create a more relevant experience for people.

“You have to be actively engaged in the guest experience every single day,” he said. “The space that we have re-positioned in Bella Terra, you would just see a depressed amphitheater at times when there was no event going on. It really hurt the overall flow of the area.”

The amphitheater was intended to be the center of the Italian-style village and serve as a central pedestrian access point from the surrounding retail area. However, it actually hindered visibility and functionality “due to large, outdated architectural elements which create dead-end paseos, hidden arrival points and a single-use public space that lacked flexibility,” according to project documents submitted to the Huntington Beach Design Review Board.

Bella Terra has more than 50 retail sites, including fitness and entertainment centers. Its summer calendar is booked nearly every day with musicians, arts and crafts workshops and occasional free yoga classes. Parton said more than 400 events and other activities are scheduled for this year and that “it’s important to have something the community still wants to hang out in.”

Parton said he hopes the new community social space will become “an extension of [residents’] daily routine.”

The entire revamp is expected to be completed in the next six to eight months, Parton said.

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