A common sight at Westfield's Carlsbad shopping center
What’s going on with Carlsbad’s Plaza Camino Real…er…Westfield Carlsbad shopping center? Last year’s name change hasn’t seemed to help. Recently, rumors have been flying around the mall’s remaining merchants and their customers.
Are plans for Westfield's Carlsbad mall as good as dead?
In 2013, Westfield announced a long-delayed renovation of the Plaza Camino Real property. The plan was to raise the roof —literally, open up the center, orient the stores to outside entrances, and create a retail, entertainment, and dining complex that would be a “destination center.”
It started with big fanfare from city officials and center owners. The old two-story Robinsons-May became a large 24 Hour Fitness and 12-screen Regal Theater.
According to some merchants, around the end of last year, to prepare for the remodel, many merchants either had their leases bought out or were not renewed, in order to clear the path for new construction and new stores. On most days, the mall was like a ghost town, absent of shoppers with every third or fourth store empty; a façade advertised a “coming soon” upgrade.
Earlier this year, Caruso Development proposed a 21-acre shopping center on Carlsbad’s strawberry fields, just a few miles south from Westfield Carlsbad. The proposed strawberry-fields center, which was fast-tracked through the city council, is to be anchored by a Nordstrom and other high-end entertainment and retail merchants…as were plans for Westfield Carlsbad.
It was rumored that city planners privately told Westfield not to oppose Caruso, even if it would economically stall Westfield’s plans.
Westfield’s senior marketing director, Adrienne Bergeron, told the Reader on October 15, “We are disappointed by the efforts of Caruso Affiliated and its supporters to fabricate stories about Westfield, and creating a ‘straw man’ so as to divert attention away from the legitimate concerns of the citizens of Carlsbad and North County.”
Bergeron is referring to the initiative that pushed the development through without voter approval and avoided costly environmental review. Bergeron said Westfield testified at hearings, telling the council that “Caruso Affiliated has pursued this alternative as a tactic to evade proper environmental impact and other review simply to on save on costs and increase its own profit.”
But Westfield has not financed nor been involved with recent grassroots community efforts to overturn the council’s decision. (The registrar of voters is still certifying petition signatures, which would overturn the council’s approval and allow the public to vote.)
What’s next for Westfield Carlsbad? “Westfield Carlsbad’s Phase Two commencement has been delayed to increase lease commitments, explore additional prospects/potential for the property, and allow sufficient time to complete work with city staff. We are taking a thoughtful, customer-centric approach and exploring all options.”
With new merchants now being allowed to rent vacant space, watchers of the retail industry point out that two of Westfield’s major anchors, Sears and JCPenney, have had their issues with continuing poor sales nationwide. No one would be surprised if they announced closure in the coming years. Additionally it has been speculated that Macy’s, which has two large stores in the mall (a men’s and furnishings store and a separate women’s store), will combine into one existing space.
Originally opened in 1968, it was once the largest indoor mall in San Diego County, with 1.1 million square feet of retail space and almost 200 merchants. Its last facelift was in 1989.
One customer, upon leaving the mall, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they tore the whole thing down and built condos.”