Fashion Island undergoes waves of change

NEWPORT BEACH — It's been a busy couple of years for Fashion Island, which added 40 new stores and restaurants as part of a $100-million cash infusion.

As the wave of change for the Irvine Co.-owned coastal shopping center trickles off — this month marked the Island Cinemas' reopening as officials announced Whole Foods Market's arrival in the fall — weekend foot-traffic is up 20% over last year, said Dan Sheridan, president of the Irvine Co.'s retail properties.

"The idea behind the reinvestment was building upon a location that cannot be replicated," Sheridan said, referring to the center's proximity to the coast, parks, open spaces and affluent neighborhoods.

Nordstrom, the Newport Colony Co., Trina Turk, Splendid, Jonathan Adler, Elie Tahari, Ella Moss, Roberto Coin, Earnest Sewn, Kitson and car dealership Tesla make up some of the new retailers, while True Food Kitchen, Le Pain Quotidien, Hana Grill and Stove Oven are some of the new food options.

The center has been able to attract stores not yet seen in Orange County. A few, such as Ella Moss and Quiksilver Waterman Collection, are the first retail stores for those brands.

"Fashion Island has become like the downtown of Newport Beach," said Erin Freeman, Irvine Co. senior vice president of corporate communications. "With all of the many dining and shopping options, it can really be seen as the heart of the city."

The center now has about 1.5 million square feet of lease space, compared with the 909,000 square feet of leasable space it offered after opening in 1967. Much of that is taken up by retail giants Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Nordstrom.

In addition to the retail space, the center also underwent architectural renovations by adding Italianate facades and outdoor seating areas. Fountains and water features are found throughout the center, including a 20,000-gallon koi pond and 24-foot-by-45-foot water wall in the Atrium Court Garden.

Among the bustle last week, outdoor tables in the Neiman Marcus-Bloomingdale's courtyard were peppered with visitors with laptops taking advantage of the center's free Wi-Fi.

"The Irvine Co. is known for being part of the community and making spaces for the community to come and gather," said Tanya Thomas, vice president and general manager of Fashion Island. "When coming to a place like Fashion Island, people come for multiple reasons — shopping is only one of those reasons."

While resident Jill Yates Dover watched her two sons play on the brightly painted "presents" beneath the center's decorated 90-foot white fir Christmas tree Wednesday morning, she reflected on the changes over the last few years.

"It's great for me," Dover said. "There are great stores, and it's much more current and up-to-date with trends."

Dover also complimented the additional parking, which increased by 1,100 spaces in 2007, and the elaborate redesign of Island Cinemas.

However, a carousel and children's train ride were removed during the remodel. The rides were something Dover brought her 6-year-old son, Carson, to every week.

"We probably rode those 25 times a week," said Dover, who also has an 18-month-old son, Davis.

The center will continue to have seasonal and family-friendly events, like the Nov. 18 tree lighting that featured photos with Santa and Disneyland Resort characters, who danced alongside students from Laguna Beach's Musical Theatre University.

A free trolley service, just added by the Irvine Co. at both Fashion Island and the Irvine Spectrum Center, is another attraction for shoppers, Thomas said.

The service with the San Francisco-style trolleys operates throughout the center and adjacent parking areas.

"It's fun for kids and families," Thomas said, "and it's fantastic for the customer who is laden with shopping bags. The trolley driver will take you right to your car."

There are still a few spaces the center is looking to fill, including looking to add more eateries near Island Cinemas.

In addition to adding a Native Foods location, another one is expected to be a family-friendly casual concept, Sheridan said.

Even with Whole Foods moving in as one of the last pieces of the reinvestment, the center will continually be looking to update itself, he said.

"It's something that is going to be constantly evolving," Sheridan said. "I don't think that it will ever stop. We're constantly thinking about evolving and delivering what the customer expects."

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