Following the closure of longtime tenant Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) at the Bixby Knolls Shopping Center last summer, city officials say they are now working closely with the property owner to assist in attracting new businesses and redeveloping the center located off of Atlantic Avenue, just north of San Antonio Drive.
Glendale-based GASKA Inc. is planning a $1-million façade improvement to the shopping center this year after OSH closed its doors during a company restructuring that was announced in June. The closure has added to the center’s vacancies, which also include an empty storefront between OSH and Marshalls department store, and smaller spaces that have been vacant for nearly a decade.
The hope is that the improvements will help draw the “right” retail establishments, said 8th District Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin, who lives within walking distance of the shopping center.
“The right retail establishment could transform this entire shopping center and make it more appealing for other tenants to come in here and really make it competitive,” he said. “OSH was a big loss for us, but I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to find some new tenants here in working with the GASKA owners, because they’re motivated as well.”
Half of the façade-improvement project is being funded by a $500,000 matching grant the property owner received from the City’s former redevelopment agency (RDA) in a 50/50 partnership with the City, according to Seyed Jalali, project officer for the Long Beach Development Services Department.
He said the City has been working with the property owner for more than 10 years to attract new “quality tenants,” and provide financial assistance to enhance the aesthetics of the center as part of a larger strategic plan to revitalize the north Long Beach community, including the Bixby Knolls neighborhood.
GASKA entered into a financial agreement with the City’s former RDA in 2008 to receive a $3.7-million loan, amortized over 25 years at a 2-percent interest rate, in redevelopment funds. The loan, Jalali said, was used to accommodate the demolition of the former Robert’s Department Store, which had been vacant for more than 11 years, and to construct a new 43,355-square-foot retail store for the Marshalls store.
Jalali said major anchor tenants at the shopping center have also received financial incentives, including OSH, which was given a total of $372,302 in retail sales-tax incentives over a nearly 15-year period, and Vons, which has received a total of $129,834 through a similar sales-tax sharing program that sunsets on Dec. 1, 2014.
Regarding the proposed façade improvement, Jalali said city staff have been working with the property owner and their architect on finalizing the design and subsequent submittal for plan check. On Sept. 12, staff had sent correspondence to GASKA, outlining outstanding plan-check corrections, but the City has yet to receive a response, he said, adding that city staff attempted to contact the property owner’s architect this week but their office was closed for the holidays.
“At this time, we are awaiting GASKA’s architect/representative response to the plan-check corrections,” Jalali said. “We cannot proceed until GASKA comes back to the City with a revised plan, addressing these issues. Further, when plans are submitted, they will be checked to verify all corrections have been fully resolved.”
GASKA representatives were unable to be reached for comment before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
Austin said he met with GASKA representatives about three weeks ago and they expressed “challenges” the center has faced throughout the years, such as the configuration of its location off of Atlantic Avenue and the lack of sufficient signage and front access for customers.
“These are challenges that they face, and they hear from potential tenants all the time,” he said. “So we talked about some ways in which we can help possibly mitigate that.”
Austin said that redeveloping the shopping center is part of a larger plan to continue economic development in Bixby Knolls and Uptown, which is getting a new public library farther north down Atlantic Avenue. He said renderings for the proposed improvement project should be released in the next few months.
“It’s critical for the economic development to continue,” Austin said. “This center is really in the middle of it all. We have to experience a turnaround here. We’re making progress in the north, and we’re making progress in Bixby Knolls– the bookends. The GASKA property is sitting stagnant. This has to be part of that grander plan.”
Jalali noted that financial incentives are sparse after the dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state, but city staff still have plans to find ways to continue economic development efforts.
“Obviously, there are limited financial resources due to dissolution of the agency,” he said. “However, we continue utilizing other economic development tools, namely business loans and federal grant funds, to continue the City’s commitment to business development and neighborhood revitalization efforts.”