Additions aim to transform Triangle Square

COSTA MESA — Developers are hoping the addition of a new gym and new restaurants can help get the ailing Triangle Square back into shape.

A 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport is set to open Nov. 19, according to the chain's website. The gym marks the first of a new wave of businesses aimed at dramatically overhauling the once-bustling Costa Mesa retail center.

"There's been a change to make it a destination location, a blend of entertainment," said Don Lamm, consultant for Greenlaw Partners, Triangle Square's owners. "That's the direction Triangle Square is going: where you go to eat, work out at the gym, maybe bowl…"

Yes, bowl.

On top of the new 54,000-square-foot gym complete with a pool, basketball hoops racquetball court, Lamm said the company is recruiting an entertainment tenant, possibly a bowling alley similar to Bowlmor Lanes at The District shopping center in Tustin.

Last month, the Planning Commission approved bringing in two restaurants — Saddle Ranch Chop House and El Corazon de Costa Mesa — next to the Yard House restaurant and Sutra nightclub. Saddle Ranch replaces the Chronic Cantina, and El Corazon will take over the space once occupied by Upper Crust Pizza and Johnny Rockets.

"It's kind of exciting. With the new property owner, they've made it a goal to revitalize," said Mel Lee, a senior planner with the city. "Basically, the big change has been that with El Corazon and Saddle Ranch, they took away the concept of small tenants like shopping malls have."

What was once a food court on the second level above ground with lots of small food and dessert shops will be transformed into a plaza with a handful of sit-down restaurants.

Whether the new tenants will serve up a resurgence remains to be seen.

In the years following Triangle Square's 1992 opening, it was bustling with Niketown, Gap and Virgin Megastore. Each has closed.

More than 23 businesses have had locations in Triangle Square since 2000. Only five remain, city records show.

Most stores last two to three years, according to business license records.

City officials blame much of the center's failings on previous ownership. The project cost $72 million and required eminent domain to build, according to Daily Pilot archives.

"What most people don't realize, $72 million in 1992, it cost way more to build than what was financially viable in those days," said Lamm, a former deputy city manager. "The original lease rents couldn't even pay for the debt service. Costs went over what the developer thought. The original owner never made a profit."

The property was eventually sold at discount to Triangle Square Investments LLC, which recruited a Los Angeles-based marketing company to generate business in 2000. That effort didn't pan out, however, and Greenlaw Partners bought Triangle Square for an undisclosed amount in 2006.

Residents have said Triangle Square is a 200,000-square-foot ghost town, a failure that withers in the shadow of Costa Mesa's commercial jewels: South Coast Plaza and MetroPointe.

Reports show Triangle Square was once projected to generate up to $1 million a year in taxes for the city. Triangle Square generated $147,000 in sales taxes last fiscal year — a $10,000 improvement from the year prior.

Greenlaw Partners is looking to invest close to $15 million to upgrade the property from the inside out, Lamm said.

"If you're going south of 19th Street, they're headed toward the coast," he said. "When you have a destination, and a commercial destination along the way, you'll pull people in."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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