MAR 2013 – CITY NEWS by Mayor Pete Aquilar

Path Forward for the Redlands Mall

Without a doubt, the most common question the City Council receives from residents and the business community is about the Redlands Mall.  While the Mall isn’t the only underutilized piece of land in the City, at 12 acres of downtown real estate it’s one of the largest and most visible.

The Redlands Mall is privately owned and the current Mall owners have demonstrated for several years now that they are unwilling to develop or significantly invest in the property. It makes sense for the Mall owners to sell to a new team that will partner with the City to make downtown a destination that complements our existing shopping district.  But the Mall owners have shown no interest in offers to buy the property and it has even been a struggle to get them to adequately maintain their property.  The economic crisis certainly played a small role as well.

Despite all this, the City is not just a bystander in the conversation; we have some leverage – most significantly, parking.  The Redlands Mall has never owned dedicated parking for its patrons. The parking spaces surrounding the mall and those in the underground garage are primarily owned and controlled by the City.

This is a considerable bargaining chip for the City as we work to persuade the Mall owners to develop their property or sell it to someone who will.  The agreement with the Mall states that tenants are entitled to a very limited number of parking spaces within the City parking lot surrounding the Mall.  The City could also consider development uses and alternatives for the balance of the parking property but that presents problems that could impede future development.

In the meantime, the City has explored ways to use the City-owned Mall parking to support downtown, such as the highly successful Food Truck event last summer.

Some members of the public and business communities have also suggested Eminent Domain.  The problem with Eminent Domain, or unfriendly condemnation, is that we could not control the total price of the property.  Eminent Domain would start us down a path where the City could incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant, legal and court expenses to acquire the Mall.

Each party would spend money challenging the other’s perceived valuation of the Mall, and then the City would pay the sum determined by the court in addition to legal expenses.

This isn’t about a lack of political will.  This is about the lack of assurances that the City won’t be left with the entire cost of the Mall in addition to ongoing obligations.

I am also uncertain where these funds would come from at the City.  I doubt there would be any real support from my Council colleagues to jeopardize our financial footing to buy the Mall.

I have yet to meet a developer or private partner who is willing to give the City a blank check to undertake these efforts.  Neither does the city’s track record of buying property give me confidence that Eminent Domain is in the best interest for our community.

The City recently released a Request for Qualifications/Proposals (RFQ/P) from members of the development community to bring us proposals and formal ideas to revitalize the Mall at its highest and best use for the community.

We have three objectives in moving forward:

  • Avoid continued neglect of the Mall;
  • Reuse and monetize the Mall site and the City‐owned property surrounding the site to generate liquidity, tax revenues, and job creation; and
  • Ensure acquisition of the Mall property by a qualified development team who will partner with the city, bring experience of developing commercial/residential property, and has the financial resources to develop the property;

If we are successful in signing an agreement with someone who will help us meet these goals the City’s control over much of the parking associated with the development site will ensure us an active role in the discussions between the interested parties since the City has control of much of the parking associated with the development site.

It is our hope that within this calendar year we will see some movement that points to a change in ownership and a comprehensive vision for the Mall site.

Our path forward on the Mall is simple – we need to partner with a new development team who can share in our vision to develop a mixed-use project that revitalizes downtown, complements the core, and generates economic activity.