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Realities of retail in the 21st century

Realities of retail in the 21st century

By: Steve LaMotte

Have you seen the show “Stranger Things?” They re-ally nailed the ‘80’s vibe with the Starcourt Mall. The food court where the teens hung out, the Time-Out Arcade, the Orange Julius, and the Hot Dog on a Stick were all pitch-perfect throwbacks to that era 40 years ago.

Ironically, the real mall in Georgia where they shot the TV show, was just sold last month and will likely be torn down as part of a large-scale redevelopment

project. Kids saving their quarters to play Space Invaders is a bygone era, and it’s not coming back. The market has spoken and the 80’s are over. The only way we can “save” the mall is to reinvent it, which is exactly what the new owners of the Laguna Hills Mall want to do.

The owners are proposing a mixed-use project called The Village at Laguna Hills, a plan that fits within the city’s Specific Plan for this parcel, meaning the city asked for it. While there would still be shops and stores, there would be so much more. Conveniently located adjacent to the I-5 freeway, the 67.8-acre site would serve as a new sustainable community with residential housing, retail, office space, a health club, a cinema and even a 150-room boutique hotel. Beyond that, the Village at Laguna Hills will include a 2.5-acre public park with pathways throughout the community.

The mall owners have held several town hall meetings and open houses virtually and in person. They have staffed booths at the Farmer’s Market, which is held on their property, every Friday to provide information and answer questions. And on April 27, they took part in a seven-hour public hearing in front of the Laguna Hills City Council where more than 90% of people spoke in support of the project.

Yet the Laguna Hills City Council dithers. The proposed project creates no new traffic than has already been ap- proved in the Specific Plan. It manages its parking needs on site. It’s freeway adjacent. The project will not only pro- vide the city with more than$22 million in park fees, but the retail and hotel guest tax will create a sustainable and reliable revenue stream year in and year out that will allow the city to enhance its public safety, pave its streets and improve its parks.

Drive by the mall along El Toro Road and the I-5 Freeway today and it’s an eyesore. We have a developer that wants to transform this property, not into a 1980’s sepia-toned mall doomed to failure, but into a 21st century community where residents can live, work, shop, play and keep the tax revenue locally in Laguna Hills.

It is unfathomable to me that the City Council isn’t leaping at this opportunity, which will result in more park space, mil- lions in park funding and a sustainable revenue source. At the meeting on the 27th, the council could not even articulate what they found objection- able about the project.

The project developer could certainly pull back the application, cancel the Development Agreement and build a housing project that would result in no park fees for the city and a mere shadow of the tax revenue the Village at Laguna Hills would generate. It would take longer to build, be a lose-lose for the city and would result in more Laguna Hills residents going to the Irvine Spectrum or the Outlets in San Clemente to shop. I question why the Laguna Hills City Council thinks that this alternative with all of the impacts and none of the benefits would be a win for their community.

I encourage the Laguna Hills City Council to show some leadership and vote for a project that is in the best interest of their city, their residents and their businesses. On June 24 vote yes for the Village at Laguna Hills.

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