Sprucing up the neighborhood

NEWPORT BEACH – Goodbye, Carl's Jr.

Hello, Crowburgerkitchen.

A retail developer plans to spruce up a long-shabby shopping center when it brings a gourmet burger café and Pavilions supermarket to the Balboa Peninsula.

In August the Albertsons at 32nd Street and Newport Boulevard, along with the other stores and eateries, will close as the center undergoes a major facelift.

The remodel comes as nearby property owners study how to best use the adjacent land between City Hall and Lido Marina Village. Like some other sections of the city, the area appears to be slowly transforming into a modern, more upscale swath of Newport Beach.

"The tenant mix there is really pretty tired at this point," said Councilman Mike Henn, who represents the district that includes the Albertsons shopping center.

The stucco-and-wood center has been home to a pizza parlor, Chinese food restaurant, Carl's Jr., KFC and other inexpensive shops. Their leases expire in August, and Albertsons will close its doors Aug. 19.

Marketing materials say the shopping center will reopen in the spring.

But not everyone is happy with the change. Greg Napier, 47, has been a butcher at Albertsons for eight years.

"It's a beach town. It's not a high-end community," he said.

Dubbed "the Landing," the renovated strip will have a slightly taller façade with brushed aluminum siding, modern light fixtures and a stone-and-brick veneer. A new building with a Chase bank branch is planned for the corner of the parking lot nearest Balboa Boulevard and 32nd Street.

Only one of the current tenants, Newport Nails, has signed up for the new space, according to marketing materials provided by Catellus, the property owner and developer.

Expected new businesses include a Chipotle Mexican Grill and Crowburgerkitchen, an outpost of the Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar.

With burgers ranging from around $5 up to $18, the Crowbrugerkitchen will feature locally bought produce and sit-down service, said owner Steve Geary.

"The food will be better that what's in that area now," he said. "It should be something that the Peninsula embraces."

The café will have 20 to 25 beers on tap and an outdoor patio. That's a far cry from Rice Land, which offers a $3.99 BBQ chicken rice bowl and green booths. Orange chicken pieces on toothpicks, though, are a welcome treat for diners pondering the menu.

"The whole premise is to be making this area more upscale," said Joe Hesketh, who manages the Let It Roll bike shop next door to Albertsons, "but they can't be doing it to please the locals."

Many residents have been shopping at the center for years, and probably will continue when it reopens. Napier, the butcher, has driven old ladies and their groceries home for them.

Employees at Albertsons apparently won't lose their jobs. The roughly 70 employees will relocate to a nearby store.

"It's affecting everyone deeply," Napier said. "Most live in the neighborhood, they walk to work—it's going to turn their lives upside down."

While their life will probably not be overturned, Lido Isle residents may have to travel an extra block for groceries. The current Pavilions in Via Lido Plaza may close when it moves across Newport Boulevard. A company representative was unable to comment on the fate of that store.

Henn said a vacancy could be the first step in the renovation (or demolition) of that center. It's an historic supermarket location: The first such market in Newport Beach, Richard's, was built there in 1948.

To send off the old center, Albertsons employees are throwing a going-away party on Aug. 30 at Baja Sharkeez, in a sometimes-grungy strip next to the Newport Pier.

Staff writer Sarah Peters contributed to this report.

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