CARLSBAD — City Council eagerly approved Westfield’s proposed renovations to the Plaza Camino Real mall, a project that has been years in the making, at its July 9 meeting.
Westfield, the primary owner of the mall, intends to spend more than $100 million on the improvements, which will include a new movie theater, gym and partial exterior and interior makeover, according to Jerry Engen, the company’s senior vice president of development.
“I wanted a mall to let people know it is in Carlsbad, instead of pretending it’s in Oceanside,” said Councilmember Keith Blackburn about how pleased he was with the planned update.
Plaza Camino Real, located along the Carlsbad and Oceanside border was originally built in 1969, and its most recent improvements were made over 30 years ago.
Once the city grants the necessary permits, Westfield hopes to begin construction as soon as possible, which could be as early as August of this year, according to Engen. He said the renovations are expected to be complete by the end of 2014.
Most of the improvements will occur in the eastern portion of the mall where a Robinsons-May was located before it closed in 2005. Westfield plans for a multiplex Regal movie theater and 24-Hour Fitness gym and other new restaurants and stores to take over the space.
Westfield aspires to make the mall more of a “one stop shop” where community members can find not only clothes and novelties, but also daily necessities, said Engen. He said that Westfield would like the mall to include a grocery store and possibly a pharmacy.
Westfield will also renovate the mall’s interior corridors and food court, as well as construct new pedestrian pathways. To improve safety at the mall, the parking lot will be remodeled with better lighting and fewer spaces.
Councilmembers agreed that the mall enhancements are “way overdue,” but also voiced hopes that Westfield will not stop at updating just the eastern portion of the mall.
“I will support the project even though it’s not what I had hoped for. But it is the first phase,” said Councilmember Farrah Douglas.
She also expressed that the Carlsbad mall requires more work than a just surface facelift.
“The appearance is one problem, but the content is a bigger problem right now,” she said.
With the improvements, Westfield hopes to attract more in-demand, higher end stores to the site, said Engen. But because the mall spaces are owned by several different companies and the current Westfield tenants have ongoing leases, the company is unable to replace stores at will.
Unlike the planning commission, City Council members expressed few concerns about Westfield’s signage plans.
“I think signage in a large operation such as this is extremely important,” said Mayor Matt Hall.
City Council dismissed the planning commission’s recommendation to remove all advertising signs on the outside of the mall, and instead agreed to study the signage provisions in more detail to ensure appropriate size and design of allowed signs.
During public comment, a couple of community members also raised the issue of studying whether affordable housing could be included on the mall’s property since the site is considered to be a potential for smart growth.
“The Council has an opportunity to look at this…and say, ‘Let’s consider smart growth in this area at this time,’” said North County Advocates representative Everett DeLano.
But council determined that because housing is not included in the current proposal, city staff should not study the property for future development at this time.
Commenting that the city has “put thousands of hours into discussing (the project),” Hall was all smiles when council approved the renovation unanimously with a 4-0 vote.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Packard was not present at the meeting.