City Life: Malls take work, not magic

Have you heard about the plans for two big LED signs at the "Bermuda" Triangle Square mall?

I have. The signs, which have generated a tremendous amount of mail and e-mail to the members of the Costa Mesa City Council, are the latest attempt to attract visitors to the center where businesses go to disappear.

As currently proposed, the signs would be installed on the northeast and southwest corners of the mall. Reading some residents' comments, one would think that the signs would be big enough to be seen from outer space.

The opposition to the signs comes from a few residents who believe that the large, lighted billboards will cast unwanted light at night, disturbing their peace. Others believe there are safety issues. That is, if you are watching the sign, you aren't watching the road.

Still others don't want the sign because they believe it will look trashy or tacky, like Times Square or the Las Vegas strip, which happen to be two of the top tourist destinations in the country.

The trashy/tacky position makes me smile, for the businesses across the street from Triangle Square include:

•Two bars with a total of 16 neon window signs featuring various types of beer;

A psychic;

A spa with two signs featuring its massage services;

Two jewelry stores with a total of five "cash for gold" signs; and

Two retail ticket scalpers — sorry, I mean "brokers";

Based on that, it seems to me that two nice signs will add a bit of class to the area.

Greenlaw Partners, the mall's new owners, could be doing a much better public relations job promoting the signs. But it takes two, and the city hasn't exactly rolled out the welcome mat to its new business partners.

We're in the early stages of a fragile recovery, and when we have new owners ready to invest heavily in a mall that has been a loser from day one, we should be supporting them, not treating them like a stepchild.

OK, so you don't like the signs. Instead of taking your ball and going home, how about offering some practical alternatives to increase business there?

Instead, we get Bronx cheers. We get opposition from residents who want the mall occupied but only on their terms — only according to what they believe may look good and which won't affect them one bit. They want a thriving mall and the attached revenue, yes, but they want it to happen with magic.

The new owners need to know that not all Costa Mesans are thankless curmudgeons. So in the spirit of welcoming and thanking them, here are a few suggestions to help improve business, because while the signs are a start, they're not going to do enough to make the mall viable. These recommendations are based on a recent, extensive self-guided tour of Triangle Square:

1) Change the name. "Triangle Square" is a loser name attached to a history of red ink. Only the Chicago Cubs are allowed to keep a loser name this long. Dump "Triangle Square" and run a local contest for a new name.

2) Work with the city to close off the tiny section of Harbor Boulevard from 19th Street to Newport Boulevard, to create a plaza connecting Triangle Square with the Courtyard Shopping Center across the street. I see the gathering place that the top floor of Triangle Square was meant to be, with kiosks, some small outdoor eateries, café tables, a small stage, some fountains. I see people strolling, relaxing and spending money. If they can close off Times Square in New York, we can close this one block in Costa Mesa.

3) Vigorously support the proposed time limits on the signs. If we can close John Wayne Airport at 11 p.m., we can come up with acceptable times to shut off the signs.

4) Borrow a page from the folks who tricked us into approving the California Lottery initiative many years ago by promising better schools through lottery money. Offer to donate a certain amount of sign time for public service announcements, such as promoting community events. I can't wait to hear someone oppose a sign that will promote soccer tournaments.

5) Put a nightclub or bar in the lower parking level, where the markets used to be. Patrons can make all the noise they want and by their second drink, they won't care that they could be crushed flat when the Big One hits.

That's it for now. I gotta go to the theaters at Triangle Square because I can see a brand-new movie without a crowd.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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