It’s not every day a city has an open house to discuss development plans for an area that’s been a key economic driver for 30 years.
Such is the state of economic certainty that’s defined 2023 so far.
Santa Clarita officials Tuesday lamented increases in the cost of doing business, supply-chain crises and the rising interest rate as just a few of the many challenges facing economic growth on the local and national scale during a budget discussion.
On Thursday, however, the open house at City Hall was about getting input for the future of an area the city is calling Town Center.
“Tonight’s community meeting is really a chance to share with the community what we’re trying to do with the (Town Center Specific) plan, and to invite their comments and questions and feedback,” said Jason Crawford, director of community development for the city of Santa Clarita.
The key word that’s come up a few times in past discussions of the plan is the word “balance,” with city officials noting the space is zoned in a way that could allow office, retail and residential space, and the city would look favorably on a plan that responsibly combines all three elements.
“We’re doing this plan really to create a framework for the future of this area,” Crawford added, “And what we’re doing with it is, we want to put into place, the city and the community’s vision for its future in a balanced way.”
To that end, the city had representatives on hand available at the Carl Boyer Conference Room at City Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday to answer questions residents might have about the future of the area, as well receive input.
The information ranged from explaining what a specific plan is to how the city was planning to use one to define the future of that part of town.
The city is defining the Town Center area as stretching west on Valencia Boulevard from its intersection with McBean Parkway to Magic Mountain Parkway, and bordered on the north by Magic Mountain Parkway heading east until it intersects with McBean again.
Residents, business owners and others interested in what might become of the city’s largest shopping center and its more than 100 stores, filtered through the Carl Boyer Conference Room at City Hall and spoke with city staff, and each other. The area also includes the library, the old sheriff’s station and an overflow parking lot the city uses for City Hall parking.
Larry Moore, who lives down the street from the mall, said he’s lived in Santa Clarita for nearly 50 years, and loves that the mall currently acts as a sort of “town center” already, he said, hoping that the city keeps it as a walkable retail space, even suggesting outlet stores.
“The one thing I do not want to see there is high-density apartment buildings, because that’s not what we need,” Moore said.
David Guenther, who owns J. David’s Custom Clothiers in The Patios, was hoping for an opportunity to speak with city officials, but also planned to check out the materials the city had laid out for residents.
Guenther recently celebrated his 40th year in business, 13 of them as a part of the mall, and said he’s noticed a change in operations after Unibail-Rodamco’s purchase of Westfield was announced in December 2017.
“The mall, through this last purchase, especially with URW out of France, it’s just kind of lost its identity,” Guenther said.
“And that’s OK,” Guenther said, noting it wasn’t personal, just business. “But also, that’s not acceptable.”
While the retail marketplace has changed in recent years, he said, residents will support an upscale shopping experience, if the next set of developers make the effort to integrate the project into the community. He suggested expanding the center to make The Patios area bigger, adding he had his highest volume year in 2022.
“The community will support an upscale mall,” he said, “but they won’t, if they don’t feel part of it.”
Right now, the mall is owned by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, however, the company has expressed interest in shedding a lot of American properties in its portfolio, and the city has seen writing on the wall that’s led them to prepare for that eventuality here, leading to Thursday’s open house.
A contact for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield did not respond to a request for comment regarding the open house that involved their multimillion-dollar property. The area for years has been known as the city’s second-largest economic driver, according to business officials.
Accordingly, business leaders also had thoughts on how changes to the area could best benefit the city.
“We support a plan that enables businesses to establish a long-lasting presence in Santa Clarita and find a home in the Town Center that allows them to flourish,” said Ivan Volschenk, president and CEO of the SCV Chamber of Commerce. “We applaud the city for allowing residents to have a voice in redeveloping this cornerstone of our community.”
Don Fleming, president of the Santa Clarita Auto Dealers Association, which is the city’s largest economic driver in terms of revenue-generation, said he would like to see the city use the space to keep quality shopping options here for residents.
“I would like to see more retail,” Fleming said, mentioning the potential traffic impacts as another aspect that might concern the owner of the local Acura dealership. “I think we need it in town because the mall doesn’t have anything.”