CARLSBAD — “Ugly. Uninviting from the exterior,” and “beyond run-down” were some of the phrases used by Carlsbad planning commissioners to describe the current state of Plaza Camino Real, the mall located between state Route 78 and El Camino Real.
Representing the mall’s primary owner, Jerry Engen, senior vice president of development of Westfield, said the mall was, “dark and tired and dated.”
And in fact, the mall has received little improvement since its construction in 1969 and expansions in 1977 and 1978, according to a presentation made by city staff to the Planning Commission on Wednesday.
After a vote of approval from the Planning Commission at that meeting, portions of the Westfield mall will be redeveloped outside and inside pending City Council support.
The changes are intended to boost revenues and attract new tenants at the declining mall, according to Engen.
The redevelopment aims to create a “one-stop” community shopping center and will include adding a new digital 12-screen Regal Theater, a new 24-Hour Fitness, and remodeled exterior and interior.
If the project receives approval from council, Westfield intends to begin construction in August and complete the redevelopment in fall 2014, said Engen.
While the Planning Commission readily agreed that the mall is in desperate need of an upgrade, some members expressed concern over the redevelopment of only selective portions of the property.
“The mall is way overdue for revitalization,” said Commissioner Hap L’Heureux.
But he questioned Westfield’s plan to only remodel the east portions of the mall.
“All of the focus is one the east side of the mall, what is going to trigger development on the west side and the north side of the mall?”
Engen explained that redeveloping only certain portions of the mall at this time made the most sense economically, and that Westfield would consider updating the rest of the mall pending more financial resources in the future.
“A lot of this is going on faith that the market environment will support development of the west end,” concluded L’Heureux.
In the end, all commissioners approved the project in spite of this hesitation in favor of bringing in the much-needed make over except for Planning Commission Chair Kerry Siekmann.
Siekmann said that despite that, “There is no property in Carlsbad that I would like to see reimagined more than this one.” She was concerned about inconsistencies within the project’s site development plan.
The commission received more than a dozen emails and a letter from the Chamber of Commerce in support or the project. During the meeting, a few community members expressed support for enhancement of the mall, but cited a few concerns about the increased traffic, lack of trees and environmental impact.
“This is the most ambitious commitment I’ve seen by Westfield to this mall and to this city,” said Emmett Durnan, who used to be the general manager for the mall from 1998-2006.