Anchors Away: Looking at the future of Redondo Beach’s South Bay Galleria
by David Mendez
Walk-up traffic just isn’t what it used to be.
The Kartounian family has run Tic Time Trends, in its various incarnations, for more than 20 years at Redondo Beach’s South Bay Galleria.
“Back then, the mall was thriving. Other malls in the area — Del Amo, or Manhattan Village — just didn’t compare. It provided a good livelihood for me and my family,” said Tic Time owner Sam Kartounian.
Now, the Galleria is in trouble. The mall’s north-side anchor store, Nordstrom, left for Torrance’s Del Amo Fashion Center at the end of its lease in late 2015 to become a centerpiece in Del Amo’s complete, multi-phase renovation.
“Losing Nordstrom was a big hit,” Kartounian said. “Tenants are hurting, there’s no more traffic in here, and I don’t know how we’re all going to pay the rent and manage to stay in the spaces we’re in.”
City Hall is feeling the squeeze as well. Falling sales throughout the Galleria resulted in the City of Redondo Beach losing more than $800,000 in tax revenue in this year’s budget, compared to the 2015-16 Fiscal Year budget.
Something, civic leaders say, has to change. The Galleria’s owners, Forest City Enterprises, are in agreement, and have submitted plans for a full-scale redevelopment that could add from 298 to 650 residential units while completely shifting the Galleria’s commercial strategy.
This, city leaders hope, could be the beginning of an economic boom for North Redondo, stretching from Hawthorne Boulevard and going west toward Aviation Boulevard.
Experts believe that a forthcoming Redondo Beach transit center, to be built within a stone’s throw of the Galleria, would be a perfect regional complement to Forest City’s proposed mixed-use development.
Neighbors, however, are uneasy with hundreds of housing units making their way to the residences near Artesia Boulevard and Kingsdale Road. The Redondo Beach Unified School District also has its concerns because the hundreds of housing units could mean hundreds of new students coming into schools that are already nearing capacity.
The 190th Street Divide
The saying among some residents of Redondo Beach’s 90278 zip code is people need a passport to cross 190th Street, which is widely considered the dividing line between North and South Redondo.
The politics in the South are louder — for most of the 2000s, battles have raged over street paving, traffic, and most prominently, what to do with Redondo’s waterfront.
All the while, North Redondo hums away, a home of aerospace industry and city revenue.
“Frankly, everyone talks about the waterfront all the time. I’m tired of always talking about the waterfront,” said Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel. “The Galleria is the economic engine of Redondo Beach; the income from the Galleria pretty much subsidizes all of the other fun stuff in the city.”
The mall, Aspel said, is substantially down on sales tax, and the City’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget bears out that impact. In his message to the City Council, City Manager Joe Hoefgen said that the city’s sales tax revenue is projected to drop by 7.4 percent to $10.95 million, a loss of $873,000.
“This is largely attributed to the departure of Nordstrom from Redondo Beach and the accompanying reduction in sales at the South Bay Galleria,” he wrote.
“You’re seeing a precipitous drop there,” said City Treasurer Steve Diels. “I used to call Artesia Boulevard the economic engine of Redondo Beach.”
Now the vacant space left by Nordstrom is emblematic of the state of Artesia Boulevard as a whole. “There’s never been so many vacancies on that street,” Diels said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Why would nice stores come to that part of town with Artesia being what it is?”
Diels’ belief is the opposite: That Artesia is what it is because there’s a lack of leadership, beginning at the Galleria.
“The Galleria itself is the anchor — as that becomes revitalized, so can the rest of the Boulevard,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it means that instead of an economic anchor, we’ll have an anchor around our necks — a massive, deteriorated structure like what you’ll find at the Hawthorne Mall.”
Open and shut
The South Bay Galleria began its life as the South Bay Center in 1957, an open-air mall, centered around a May Company department store.
“Before, there was the Triangle Center, where the Crowne Plaza is now — that was five stores, with a few smaller shops,” said Redondo historian Pat Aust. The former Redondo Beach Fire Chief and District 3 City Councilman has seen the mall developed, sold and rebuilt. “The Galleria is what brought commerce here.”
At its opening, the South Bay Center was home to 37 businesses, including the 54 lane South Bay Bowling Center.
For decades, the mall was a hub of the community, even attracting then-Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy for a speech in Nov. 1960, one week before he defeated Richard Nixon.
In 1984, Forest City, the Galleria’s current owners, purchased SBC, building an enclosed mall with a three-story Nordstrom department store to stand as an anchor.
The mall thrived into the next decade. Sales tax from the Galleria consistently generated about one-third of the city’s sales tax revenue.
But in recent years, the mall has succumbed to societal trends. Developments such as The Point, in El Segundo, and the east wing of the Del Amo Fashion Center have proven that open-air shopping developments are once again in style, while online shopping has pulled more customers away.
“Now, the children and grandchildren of the people who opened the Galleria are saying ‘who would ever want a three-story, fully-enclosed store?’” Aust said. “Brick and mortar stores are going through their worst time ever. Now you can see something, buy it on Amazon and have it show up at your door in two days. Why spend time in a mall?”
The perceived staleness of the Galleria’s shopping options has coincided with a perception that the Galleria is unsafe. For years, Redondo Beach Police Department crime reports for District 4 have included total figures, as well as totals minus the Galleria; the most recent year-to-date crime statistics show that the Galleria area itself has accounted for 168 incidents, most of which were theft of property.
“Perception is always an issue,” said Galleria marketing manager Tricia Granger. “Perception is reality, and it’s what people believe. We’re cognizant of that, and we’re working toward an improved shopping experience.”
That experience, as Galleria officials have revealed over a series of months, is a complete shift away from a regional shopping center toward a mixed-use housing and commercial hub.
New orientations on development
Today, the South Bay Galleria is the home to more than 140 services, shops and restaurants, a 16 screen movie theater and two department stores over 959,247 square feet.
But renovation plans from Forest City submitted to the City of Redondo Beach’s planning department show substantial changes in the works. The Galleria is located in a CR-Commercial Regional development zone, similar to the city’s MU-3 mixed-use zoning, which allows for 35 housing units per acre. Should the Galleria take full advantage of that space, according to the City’s housing element, they could build as many as 1,467 units on the site.
The Galleria’s submitted plans, however, are far more conservative, with an aim to keep commercial real estate on the property.
Of the options that have been considered in draft reports, Forest City’s three plans would add 298, 480, or 650 dwelling units to the site. Those plans, respectfully, would also result in a reduction of 116,190 square feet of commercial space; an addition of 110,864 square feet; or an addition of 224,464 square feet of commercial space. Each option would also include the development of an on-site hotel.
The goal, according to Forest City representatives, is to create a place for Redondo Beach to congregate north of 190th Street. It would be a destination hub for families and cyclists, and the model for Transit-Oriented Development in the South Bay.
“That’s the idea — we want to make it so it’s an attractive place for educated high-tech workers to come to Redondo Beach,” said District 5 councilwoman Laura Emdee.
The revitalization of the Galleria has long been a drive for Emdee. She sees the site’s location, next to the City’s forthcoming Metro Regional Transit Center and Green Line station, as a tremendous opportunity.
Emdee’s belief is that it could attract aerospace and tech employees and businesses to Redondo Beach as an attractive, lower-cost alternative to the surrounding South Bay.
“We can plan for and attract the people who would use the Green Line, and keep them here,” Emdee said. “I don’t want them on the freeways, driving to Corona or Irvine because they can’t afford Redondo Beach.”
A plan to redevelop the area to be more friendly to Transit-Oriented Development [TOD] also drew excitement from University of Southern California professor Marlon Boarnet, the Department Chair of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis at the Price School of Public Policy. Boarnet also worked on a project that studied the development and growth of Artesia Boulevard.
“The places we studied on Artesia that are highly walkable are in the area of Artesia Boulevard and Rindge Road, with a lot of small neighborhood businesses and a lot of walking traffic. It already has some of the functionality of TOD, and this is a great opportunity to leverage that,” Boarnet said.
Planning for a new transit-oriented framework in the shadow of a redeveloped Galleria could bring a number of benefits to the area, including enhanced economic viability and increasing the walking character of Artesia, he said.
“Regionally, this would be a very good area to accommodate new growth,” Boarnet said. “Putting people near the future Green Line station encourages that growth to use modes other than driving.”
Business boom, neighborhood bust?
But the neighbors of Kingsdale Road, led by resident Suzy Royds, are increasingly worried about the potential for hundreds of new homes to be built across the street from their long-standing homes.
“Can you imagine a building taller than the Galleria’s parking structure 50 feet away from my front door, with windows looking into mine and my neighbors’s houses? Who would want to buy my house?” Royds asked.
A real estate agent, Royds says two things would happen if she were to put her home on the market: She’d have to disclose her knowledge of the forthcoming project, and her home equity would subsequently tank.
“Where would I go with $300,000 of equity? I wouldn’t be able to live in this weather and afford this house payment,” she said. Royds and her husband, fellow real estate agent Tom Royds, bought the home from her parents and have lived there, raising their family, for 30 years.
“I don’t want to move to Riverside — it’s 110 degrees there. Yeah, I could probably get a mansion house with two acres of land, but…this is a nice area, and I grew up here.”
District 4 councilman Steve Sammarco hears her plight and sympathizes.
“You’ve got to feel for the people who live around the mall — the drain in city resources alone will be tremendous,” he said. “They already have a hard time getting out of their driveway because of the Target south of them. I think their property would lose value tremendously.”
Sammarco also cites a belief that rented properties, as the proposed units would be, tend to bring crime, more greatly affecting the nearby residents.
“I think the City should consider eminent domain,” Sammarco said, indicating that purchase of that land by the City would both ease the concerns of those residents and allow for Kingsdale Road to be widened. “I would absolutely push for it if it’s something the residents wanted.”
The Redondo Beach Unified School District has concerns as well. Discussions with Forest City have led the developer to finance a study of potential project impacts on the district, which has yet to be finalized. However, a draft dated to July 2016 shows that the district could add between 70 and 250 new students, based on a variety of calculation tables.
The district, understandably, is in a wait-and-see mode until the project moves forward.
“Obviously, this type of development has the potential to impact our enrollment,” said RBUSD Superintendent Steven Keller. “When I arrived to RBUSD over 10 years ago, our enrollment was about 7,200 students. We are now at 9,766, and the increase is not attributed to students on permit from another district. This is a special learning community and the numbers speak for themselves. However, I would be lying if I said more students doesn’t make me nervous.”
The prospect of neighborhood growth, however, is what excites Emdee. It’s what moved her, in the City’s most recent Strategic Planning session, to push for what she calls an Economic Development Team. That team would take an active role in pursuing new business to Redondo Beach and encouraging existing stakeholders to reinvest in the area.
“There’s a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ thing in business here — ‘if you upgrade yours, I’ll upgrade mine,’” she said. “I want to encourage that…we think we’ll attract success for the entire Artesia corridor, and the right businesses to complement each other.”
But the prospect of new business and new development may not be enough for the residents who might be affected. Boarnet sympathizes with them.
“I understand how the prospect of change is worrisome. I think if you live in a neighborhood and you see it changing, that touches off a lot of concern, and I appreciate that,” Boarnet said. “But that piece of property seems like a very, very good opportunity for Transit Oriented Development.
“This is something that could really anchor the next generation of high quality of life in that area.”