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by Bill Thomas
Several Saturday’s ago, realtor Steven Craig, members of his staff, and San Clemente Mayor Tim Brown co-hosted a walking tour for over 100 interested parties of the 52-acre site of the forthcoming Plaza San Clemente. The site is to host an outlet store area, a hotel and restaurant complex, and will also include 313 homes on the remaining 196 acres.
Some 100 outlet stores are planned, with many commitments already on paper. The 4-story hotel will have 129 rooms, and eight restaurants are in the mix. They will vary in name and cuisine, Craig announced, and valet parking will be available. Every effort will be made for the commercial tenants to take advantage of the ocean views and breathtaking sunsets, the major attractions of this large land parcel.
The commercial area is 90% finished with preparatory construction work, including ground filling, electrical, water, and gas requirements. The attractive bridge, reminiscent of the one spanning the Thames River in England, overlooks what will become an attractive, plant and tree-filled valley, as well as the ocean beyond. Light pollution has been a concern, and there is ballast protection and directional concentration on the complex itself.
Visually, Craig compares the overall layout more with Fashion Island than South Coast Plaza. There is to be parking for 3000 cars including a two-story structure, and shuttles are also planned. A sidewalk will surround the entire facility.
At its April 2 meeting, the City Council approved the residential development agreement with Marblehead LLC, Arch Insurance Company, and Marblehead Development Partners LLC - the project headed by Arizona home builder, Taylor Morrison Home Corp.
Mike Burke, a San Clemente resident and an executive vice president of RBF Consulting - a planning, engineering, and surveying company - has worked on Marblehead projects, including Plaza San Clemente, for over 30 years – through the Nixon Library consideration; the Lusk company’s plans for 500 homes, a golf course, commercial center, and resort hotel; the SunCal purchase; the nationwide economic plunge; the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers; the California Coastal Commission’s “peek-a-boo” involvement; and, through the years, the City Council’s numerous approvals and disapprovals of the various proposals for the site.
As to the history of the project, Mike wrote, “ While there many people who contributed mightily to the ultimate success of the Marblehead plan, I don’t think we would have ever gotten to the point we are today without the beloved late Jim Johnson, the overall mastermind of the Marblehead project; Steve Craig, whose unique vision and expertise will create a retail center that, at times, seemingly, didn’t meet the impossible demands of the community and the commercial needs and aesthetic opportunities of a successful center; and David Lund, the former City Economic Development Director who had the wisdom to see the potential for success in bringing Johnson and Craig together for what will turn out to be of great benefit to San Clemente and one of the most remarkable developments on the coast of California.”
Mike continued, “I’m thrilled that the long awaited, much anticipated San Clemente Plaza is about to start coming out of the ground. Walking over the site, crossing over the beautiful bridge, gazing down the spectacular valley teeming with native plants and singing birds, soaking in the blue skies and blue ocean vistas, listening to Steve talk about his vision for the center and his descriptions of what his project would be and feel like was really a moving experience for me. I’ve spent thousands of hours, tens of thousands really, working on Marblehead trying to play a part in bringing a first rate project to reality in this community I love. With that two-hour walk on Saturday, I finally knew it was going to happen. I truly felt it. Not only that it was going to become reality, but that it was going to be even more marvelous than I imagined…and I have long imagined that it would be spectacular. From the historically significant architectural theme of the Plaza San Clemente center to the new enviable neighborhoods to the sweeping natural vistas of the many trails, parks and open spaces, this will be a place not only for me to be proud of the small role I played helping to shape Marblehead into reality, but for hundreds of others who also helped.”
City Planning Commission member Wayne Eggleston brought up several concerns in his comments: “Marblehead outlet will dramatically change the visitor experience of San Clemente. Essentially what the developer stated was that 2/3 of the business will come from shoppers 50 miles or more from San Clemente. Very little will come from San Clemente residents themselves. Would it not have been good to have a development whereby our residents could benefit, other than sales tax dollars, and at the same time not have a dramatic increase in freeway and road traffic? I realize the ‘horse has gone out of the barn,’ but a high end resort like they have in Dana Point would have brought in visitors who would have shopped in our downtown village and restaurants. Signage is still an issue, and the developer was very vague about that issue. Saying that, the developer built the Carlsbad outlet and prior to it being sold, it was a high-end outlet with good taste. Hopefully the architecture and shopping/restaurant experience will also be tasteful in this development.”
City Council member Lori Donchak was more positive: “I expect the shopping center to be very popular, which creates a pressing need to proactively manage traffic. Craig Realty Group estimates upwards of 1,000 jobs to be created by the project. It will be important to work with Metrolink to see if more frequent stops can be made at North Beach. I'm glad to hear shuttles are being considered. Anything that can reduce potential traffic is a plus. Overall, it has a positive effect. The thoughtful use of open space and trails and park offers balance. The shopping center brings sales tax money to the city that can be used to maintain our parks and beach. Likely there will be some growing pains, that's true with anything new, but, ultimately, the shopping center will be a good addition.”
Community activists Joan and Jim Nielsen were very complimentary. From Joan - “I’m very impressed with the quality of the project - the custom roofs, walls and pavers. From Jim - “I was impressed with Steve Craig’s concern in impacting our City with additional traffic and his desire to explore shuttle busses to serve the rest of the City. Certainly, the additional sales tax revenues will be welcomed by the City. A first class operation in my mind. Let’s get it rolling.”
“An outstanding factory outlet development,” wrote Citizen of the Year 2013 Don Glasgow, “I love what the developer is doing to bring to our city what might be a ‘world class’ factory outlet center. It appears to me the materials being utilized to build the center and their quality of architectural design is simply the best, and in concert with our Spanish Colonial design concept. What an amazing setting on the Marblehead bluff too! As a former retailer, I see nothing but success for that center. Congratulations to anyone and everyone who had a hand in guiding this project to what it is going to be. I, like everyone else, am eager to begin experiencing the ‘fruits’ of too many years of planning.”
As to outlet stores - According to Wikipedia, “An outlet store or factory outlet is a brick and mortar or online retail stores in which manufacturers sell their stock directly to the public.” Outlets, supposedly, offer a greater value on prices as compared to full price retail. They started in the 1930s, gained strength in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and, last year, there were 472 outlet malls throughout the U.S.
The Craig Realty Group has owned/managed 12 outlet complexes in seven states: Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Mississippi. It is currently developing seven more in Hawaii, Illinois, Ohio, Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, and California. Of note is that one of the outlets, Phoenix, Arizona, last year, had the tallest Christmas tree in a U.S. mall - a 110 foot white fir. To guess the names of some of the outlet stores which may land in San Clemente, one must look at some of the stores in other Craig-garnered locations. The 12 food services and 90 outlet stores in Carlsbad include such divisions as house wares and home Furnishings, designer fashion and sportswear, children’s shoes, fine Leather and luggage, and accessories and jewelry and specific stores such as Adidas, Banana Republic Factory Store, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Gap and Guess Factory Stores, Izod, Puma and Van Heusen. Los Angeles’ Citadel, hosts 16 restaurants encompassing 71 outlet stores including American Eagle, Billabong, Disney, Converse Factory Outlet, Samsonite and Quicksilver.
As Mike Burke wrote, “All of San Clemente can be proud of this great new asset to the community. Like the Beach Trail, the Vista Hermosa Sports Park, Downtown on Del Mar and El Camino Real, and the Pier Bowl, this will be a place where San Clementeans will not only go themselves, but they will take their friends and relatives when they come to town to show them what a wonderful place we live in.”