Lobdell: How about some Triangle offense?

I've always rooted for Triangle Square in Costa Mesa, which over the years has been similar to rooting for the Los Angeles Clippers.

So much potential, so little to show for it.

Since it opened in 1992 as the centerpiece of the city's downtown redevelopment, the shopping center has been as successful as a liquor salesman at a Mormon conference.

Even superstar tenants such as Niketown, Virgin Megastore, The Gap, Ralph's, Barnes and Noble, Johnny Rockets, Humphrey Yogart and La Salsa couldn't make a go of it at Triangle Square. And the center has had more owners than Lindsay Lohan has had stints in rehab.

If these were proven winners elsewhere, what went wrong in Costa Mesa?

It couldn't be location. Triangle Square — which cost $62 million to build — is at the intersections of the 55 Freeway, Harbor Boulevard, 19th Street and Newport Boulevard. Roughly 122,000 vehicles drive by each day.

Triangle Square has two large design flaws that no one has been able to overcome so far. First, its basic layout is awkward, with no flow — or easy way to navigate — between the street and second levels.

The bigger problem is Triangle Square's labyrinth of a parking garage, which features narrow lanes, confusing directions, tight turns and dinky spaces.

In Orange County, we are soft when it comes to parking. We expect to drive right up to the businesses we patronize. If there's any other barrier — a parking garage or a paid lot— we tend to stay away. New Yorkers would laugh at us.

I liked the proposal a few years back to turn much of Triangle Square into urban housing—Costa Mesa's version of downtown lofts. But that idea died when the housing bubble burst.

The latest plan to revamp the nearly 20-year-old center is scheduled to come before the Costa Mesa Planning Commission on Monday.

The mall's latest owners, Newport Beach-based Greenlaw Partners, want to turn nearly 60,000-square-foot space in Triangle Square's basement and street level — originally home to a supermarket, Barnes and Noble and North Face — into a high-end 24-Hour Fitness health club (the 24-Hour Fitness across the street would remain).

Greenlaw and city staff believe the health club—which will include a swimming pool and basketball court—will help draw people to Triangle Square. I hope so, but in my experience, people who go to the gym don't do much after working out except maybe get a smoothie or coffee before heading home.

But maybe a luxury gym is the first step toward fulfilling what I think is Triangle Square's only hope: to become an entertainment destination for the younger crowd.

I thought the supermarket space would have been perfect for a hip bowling alley and nightclub, but that could go elsewhere now.

The three-story Niketown space, with its post-industrial sleekness, could be easily turned into Orange County's hottest dance club.

The second-floor pavilion could house a series of bars featuring live music and a comedy club, karaoke bar and restaurants like the Gypsy Den and coffeehouses like Kean would fill in the rest of the space.

When movie-goers have places to go before or after a film, the theaters are Triangle Square would once again be packed.

Triangle Square could be the answer to the eternal question asked by friends and lovers each evening in Orange County: What do you want to do tonight?

It's freeway close to all parts of Orange County. Noise wouldn't be a problem since busy streets surround Triangle Square. And the Sutra Lounge and the Yard House have shown that if you have a popular enough draw, customers will brave the dreaded parking garage.

It could be a miniature version of Universal CityWalk, a popular destination where people could spend a pleasant evening listening to music, eating, dancing and even bowling.

If Greenlaw Partners use my vision to turn Triangle Square from a white elephant to white hot, I ask for no compensation except for a VIP card that will allow me to bypass the long lines that are sure to form at each Triangle Square venue and get right in. I promise to wear all black so I'll fit in with the kids.

Oh, and there's no more thing you can do for me. Please put up electronic signs to ratchet up the excitement of the new Triangle Square. You can't let 122,000 drivers pass by each day without grabbing their attention, and those high-tech billboards would project the right vibe for the entertainment center.

And my fellow Eastsiders, let's not object to the signs on the basis that they would be a traffic hazard. We are not one-toothed country bumpkins who will be so mesmerized by a new-fangled gadget that we will rear end the car in front of us as we stare wide-eyed at the moving images.

I'll admit that New Yorkers can handle parking garages better than us. But whether it's Time Square or Triangle Square, we can both drive by an electronic sign without getting into an accident.

By the way, the Clippers are once again in last place in their division. But the team has many bright prospects and a new coach. It's still early, and this season looks promising.

The same goes for Triangle Square.

WILLIAM LOBDELL is former editor of the Daily Pilot, former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, and a Costa Mesa resident. His e-mail is williamlobdell@gmail.com.

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