Furniture mall expecting 90% lease rate

In the next week or two, Brandon Birtcher, of Birtcher Development and Investments, said he will be set to announce that the company's new development, the South Coast Home Furnishings Centre, is 90% leased.

Construction and lease agreements are all right on schedule for the $90-million shopping center's July 2007 opening date.

But customers are already taking advantage of one of the center's stores, which opened the day after Thanksgiving.

Wickes Furniture moved into a new and improved space at the Hyland Street shopping center from its old location at Gisler Street and Harbor Boulevard, which will be open for a few more months as a clearance center.

The shopping center, which is on Hyland Street and South Coast Drive, follows in the footsteps of the developer's expertise. For the last 35 years, Birtcher Development and Investments has developed wholesale furnishings centers that catered specifically to designers, architects and other industry professionals, Birtcher said.

The land use option "that I was most attracted to was one that I observed because of the freeway system in the region," Birtcher said. "From the 55 Freeway to the 405, and the five or 10 miles in every direction, there are scores and scores of home-furnishing-oriented retailers in groups and single tenant buildings … all the way along the freeway system with frankly great visibility and for the most part terrible access."

His goal was to group these retailers in one spot that had high visibility and was convenient to shoppers. Birtcher wanted the center to be the place for one-stop home decor shopping.

The list of already confirmed tenants, who so far will take up 75% of the space, include furniture, bedding, lighting and floor-covering specialists, Birtcher said.

Lake Forest resident Robert Jones said he looks forward to coming back to the center when all the stores are open. He's in the middle of remodeling his home and was at Wickes on Saturday to pick out a kitchen set, armoire and other pieces.

"It's kind of neat," Jones said about the center's concept. "I'm already here, buying right now."

The new Wickes store is an open, bright store with upgraded signage. Manager Emily Carroll said the store's revamp and new location has been good for business, despite being the only store open at the center.

"It's a gorgeous store. Business is great," Carroll said. "There's more furniture stores coming in and we're excited to welcome the new stores in here. It'll draw more traffic, and the competition is good. We look forward to it."

When finished, the center will also have a food court and about 40 showrooms, Birtcher said.

With some space still available, Birtcher said leasing agents are looking at attracting a coffee shop, and home theater, fireplace, barbecue and outdoor furniture retailers.


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