Town Center to get an overhaul

Big change is coming to the La Cañada Flintridge Town Center, with a new fountain, a burger joint and events to draw visitors.

Town Center owners IDS Real Estate revealed plans this week for a redesign of the public space in the center at Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard, including a water fountain and seating in the main courtyard, smaller water elements in the center's other courtyards and new landscaping featuring native and drought-tolerant vegetation.

“We're trying to create more of an area where people can come and spend time throughout the Town Center, as opposed to just stopping by, doing their shopping and getting back in their cars,” said Robert Fuelling, IDS' director of marketing. Fuelling said IDS hopes to complete the work by the end of the year.

Once the Town Center's facelift — including new signs — is complete, IDS hopes to bring in new businesses to fill the center's remaining vacancies. One new tenant likely will be the Habit Burger Grill.

The Habit asked the city earlier this month for permits to make tenant improvements — interior construction and redesign — for the vacant storefront between Panera Bread and Sakura Steakhouse off the center's main courtyard.

Habit representative Mike Mirkil declined to comment except to confirm the company is in lease discussions in the area. Fuelling declined to comment on pending transactions but confirmed IDS is in talks to lease that storefront.

The Habit, founded in Santa Barbara in 1969, has been expanding throughout California in recent years and now operates more than 50 stores in the state. Like In-N-Out, the Habit's primary fare is never-frozen beef hamburgers available in multiple patty-and-cheese configurations, but the chain also offers other items, including chicken and tri-tip sandwiches.

Fuelling said the Town Center is at 88% occupancy and has three or four vacant units remaining, but IDS' decision not to execute any leases since purchasing the property in 2011 was a conscious one.

“We haven't been in a hurry to enter into any lease transactions until we get our landscaping and project improvements approved,” he said. “Now that we've received approval we're eager to get started.”

IDS also is working with the city and the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce to develop activities for Olberz Park, located inside the center. Chamber President Pat Anderson said plans are in place to move the weekly farmers market back to Olberz Park, where it was originally held, by the end of 2012.

Anderson said the chamber supports IDS' strategy to upgrade the center.

“Clearly the retailers are going to benefit by this, and the vacancy rate will definitely go down,” she said. “The chamber is very pleased with the plans IDS has put forward. We think the landscaping will intensely beautify the Town Center, attracting more foot traffic.”

The chamber has sought to get the vacancy rate of the city's almost 300 commercial properties down from the 9% it was a year ago to about 4%.

Anderson said a fully occupied Town Center would be a large step toward achieving this goal, complementing the recently filled commercial spaces on Foothill Boulevard such as the 76 gas station at Angeles Crest Highway and the Sprouts Farmers Market on Foothill. The city's commercial vacancy rate is now 5.4%.

La Cañada's sales tax revenue was $2.04 million in 2008-09, when the center opened, but is projected at $2.25 million in the city's 2012-13 budget. The city is prohibited by law from divulging sales tax revenues for specific businesses or properties.

Fuelling said that although IDS has yet to complete its vision for the Town Center, the company has been very pleased with the investment.

“We love the real estate,” Fuelling said. “We love having a core quality high-end retail center in a strong local community like La Cañada Flintridge.”

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