By Jim Tortolano
Nothing is written in stone yet, or poured in concrete, but the rough outlines of a possible “new” Westminster Mall were sketched out Tuesday night.
At a community meeting in the mall, a vision of an “activity center” that would combine residential – in mid- and high-rise versions – along with retail, hotel, open space and other uses emerged as Wendy Nowak of Placeworks – a consulting firm working with the City of Westminster – addressed a crowd of about 100 people on the first floor of the center.
“A woman told me that years ago, she and her friends used to ride the bus to Westminster Mall and hang out; it was the place to go,” Nowak said. “That’s what we what this to be again.”
In an address that lasted almost 40 minutes, she detailed several planning issues involved such as:
- the “edges” of the property along Edwards Street, Bolsa Avenue, Goldenwest Street and the San Diego (405) Freeway, with landscaping and other features to be compatible with the surrounding uses;
- building heights, which would “step up” from three-to-four stories on the perimeter to as tall as eight-to-10 stories within the site and along the freeway, with hotels as possible uses there;
- open space that would be scattered throughout the project, with one major location toward the center. She noted that the area around the mall was one of those in the city where there was no city park or public open space within a quarter-mile for residents,
- traffic circulation into and around the center, including entrances for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Nowak also shared with the crowd that the final specific plan for the mall is expected to be ready to go to the planning commission and city council by spring or summer of 2020.
After that a developer would be sought to remake the mall, which encompasses about 100 acres and has seven property owners.
Following Nowak’s remarks, there was a question-and-answer period and an exercise to get further comments from those in attendance.
Westminster Mall was opened in 1974 and with four major anchor department stores – Robinson’s, May Co., Sears and JC Penney – it was for a while the largest in Orange County.
Over the years, however, its status as the top shopping destination eroded as other, larger centers developed. Most recently, the remake of the old Huntington Center – just one offramp south – into the open air Bella Terra center anchored by a Kohl’s department store, a Costco big box retailer, a large movie complex and a wide array of restaurants, was a turning point.
Currently, one major department store position – formerly a Sears – is vacant and a recent count of the retail spots inside the mall showed 20 or more empty stores.