Slow, steady progress for Mall

ATTENDEES gathered on the first floor of the mall outside a former entrance to the closed Sears store at Westminster Mall at public input meeting in 2019 (Orange County Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano

Slow but steady may be the path for renovating and repurposing Westminster Mall.

That’s the word from Wednesday’s meeting of the Westminster City Council, as city leaders heard an update on progress toward a specific plan for the aging shopping center and offered their comments on the pace of developing am outline for its renewal.

“I know this project has been a long time coming,” said Councilmember Kimberly Ho. “I am saying that, if it’s any consolation, that it’s absolutely OK to go slow, because there’s so much up in the air in regards to the retail climate,” she said, adding that businesses may have to “reinvent themselves to survive. We almost have to reinvent or die.”

She noted that if a new version of the mall had been built earlier, it might not have met the needs of a rapidly changing economy.

ALEXA SMITTLE, community development director

Alexa Smittle, community development director, made a brief presentation to the council and answered questions about the process, which began several years ago.

“We went into this process thinking it would take a couple of years. We didn’t know, quite honestly, what we were getting into,” said Smittle. “There are a lot of different things that were uncovered along the way and challenges that we are working through, not the least of which is, of course, the pandemic and the deep impacts that it has on the retail landscape and what the future of that looks like.”

She added that she hoped to “bring the specific plan to the city council at the beginning of 2022.”

In response to questions, she reiterated that the finished product would be a “destination” rather than just a shopping center with some housing. “The thing that really attracts people is dining and entertainment,” said Councilmember Carlos Manzo. Making a unique “place” people would want to visit will be the plan’s top priority along with protecting the city’s general fund, Smittle said.

The mall, which opened in 1974 with four major department stores, was initially Orange County’s biggest retail center. For years, the center was the largest contributor of sales tax to the city coffers, but in recent years those revenues have declined in response to changing buying habits, including the rise of online commerce.

To our readers: Wednesday’s meeting of the Westminster City Council ran past our deadline. We will have more results from that meeting in a follow-up article.

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