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Lack-of-vision bites Country Club Plaza (and the rest of us) again?

The Sacramento Business Journal presents itself as a go-to news source about our regional economy. It often has articles about proposed new retail businesses or apartment complexes. For instance, they might print a story about a cool, new restaurant coming to Roseville or a trendy, mixed-use complex in Midtown Sac. Now and then, the Business Journal publishes an article about proposed developments in our community. And let's face it, Arden Arcade is a target-rich environment for development schemes connected with failing or failed strip malls, big box stores and the like.

May contain: architecture, building, and office building
Maybe it will get new retailers for 2 of its 4 floors. Maybe it will be sold. Maybe it will just sit there and rot.

We read the Business Journal's recent article (Ben van der Meer, "Country Club Plaza owners plan new tenants, possible sale of former Macy's property", Sacramento Business Journal, May 19, 2023) about Country Club Plaza with interest. That interest faded pretty quickly because - having experience with the back stories as we do - it was easy to read between the lines. The article says the Macy's building looks to be on the verge of getting new tenants and reports there will be new buildings (commercial "pads") in the massive parking lot. OK, fine, Country Club Plaza has had 1 foot in the grave for long enough; we'd certainly like to see it come back to life. However, the article :

  • Says there will be a new Chick-fil-A building "facing Watt Avenue" optimized for drive-through sales. along with that are hopes for new "pads" on El Camino and on Butano. many fast food - particularly chicken drive-thru - places does Watt and El Camino really need? We already have Popeye's and Raising Canes in that immediate vicinity, along with McDonalds and Wendy's. How many other large metro areas in the U.S. do you know of that let fast-food restaurants dominate the center of their metro area? And hasn't Arden Creek Town Center flopped big-time with its pipe dreams for drive-thru "pads" on Watt?
  • Reports that two floors of the Macy's building might get new retail stores. One would be on the first floor and the other would be in the basement. The other two floors will remain empty. Does that sound like a sustainable, long-term solution to you?
  • States the mall owners want to hold onto as much of the massive parking lot as possible. Are you wondering why? We are, too. Don't we already have an abundance of hot, unshaded asphalt in our community? Are Christmas tree vendors clammoring for more space than they already use? Is the Farmer's Market going to be bigger? Is there some kind of parking space shortage at Watt and El Camino? Meanwhile, urban policies across the country are moving away from giant parking lots.
  • Says parts of the mall are for sale for $8,000,000. You know, in the "better" parts of town you could put 8 houses there at that price. Here, you could put a whole lot more than that. Hmm...mixed use opportunity? Yeah, cool! Apartments where you can walk to Chick-fil-A!
Owners of Country Club Plaza in Arden-Arcade are considering three different tenant plans for the mall's northeastern end, and have listed it for sale.
Ben van der Meer in "Country Club Plaza owners plan new tenants, possible sale of former Macy's property"., Sacramento Business Journal, 05/19/2023. Are the owners getting desperate?

Who are those owners, you ask? One is Helm Properties, a small Yuba City real estate and property management company. Country Club Plaza's old Macy's building is just one of several properties in their inventory that's available for sale or lease. Another is Intelli LLC, a commercial real estate investment firm in San Jose run by entrepreneur Do Van Tron. Winco Foods, a Boise ID corporation, owns their part of the mall. US Bank owns their building at the NW corner. All of the owners regard their property at Country Club Plaza as a profit-making venture. None of the owners are locals; none are connected to the community for reasons other than money. Well, good for them. We certainly support a business' ability to grow and thrive. But we are concerned as well about the impacts on the community, on our residents' quality of life, and on our local (not out-of-area) businesses. It is one thing to be supportive of business ventures. It is another thing to give out-of-area investors free reign. Were we a city, there would be a local economic development plan that balanced all those varying interests, like the program Citrus Heights has. Yet, since the County is our surrogate municipality, we have to rely on the County to balance the community's needs and wants with the business investors' needs and wants. That's where things break down. The County, which has a laissez-faire approach to economic development,  has chosen to not be engaged. Whatever a developer wants to do is OK and the community should keep its collective nose out of it. The County has a history of falling for the fairy tales (e.g. "Winco will be a great catalyst for Country Club Plaza", when in reality Winco has spurred no serious co-tenancy there or elsewhere in Northern California). Meanwhile, it's starting to be pretty clear that neither the County nor the out-of-area owners are all stars at trolling for new tenants. It's kind of sad and demoralizing.

We have consistently pointed out in our posts that the County has no vision for our community's future. Our Community Plan, which is supposed to guide Arden Arcade towards a better future, is woefully out of date. Winco Foods was said to be the savior of Country Club Plaza, just as the as-yet-unfulfilled Amazon Fresh and the Sam's- Club-became-Costco-Business were supposed to rescue Country Club Center. Those high hopes have yet to be realized. Both Country Club Plaza and Country Club Center have chopped-up their massive holdings into commercial real estate condos with multiple owners whose agreement, being necessary for mall redesign, is hard to obtain and slower than molasses to achieve in the form of an inked contract. In that context, the Business Journal's article, perhaps unwittingly, has explained and clarified our community's downward spiral

Big indoor malls are struggling all over the country. Some have been reconstructed as "power centers", which are outdoor shopping centers with multiple big-box retailers, as well as an array of smaller retailers, restaurants, and other kinds of businesses - The Fountains in Roseville is an example. RiverPoint Marketplace (where IKEA is) in West Sacramento is another example. Palladio in Folsom is a "lifestyle center" that augments consumer retail business offerings with customer experience opportunities to converge and socialize. El Dorado Hills and Rancho Cordova have created mixed-use "town centers" that blend diverse retail offerings, offices, and consumer experience features with residences and parks. Citrus Heights is working with the owners of Sunrise Mall to establish a similar kind of town center that will include a concert venue and a hotel. Elk Grove is re-creating its historic downtown strip into a real downtown. Though not necessarily promoting any of those kinds of modern shopping centers, we note that they seem to have breathed new life into their communities. What do all of those examples have in common? They are in cities. They made something out of nothing. They resulted from public policies intended to improve the daily lives of residents and the prosperity chances for local businesses. Rather than being accidental, they were deliberately planned.

We don't have nice things like that here. What's best for the community isn't what drives development in Arden Arcade. Instead, we get whatever pragmatic idea de jour might benefit the short-term business needs of whichever random developer or investor walks into the land use permitting office in County Hall. And most of the time, those people are from places outside of the County. Does that make you relax in a comfy chair with relief and satisfaction? Or would you like to change that, to upgrade the community? Please let us know and maybe share your thoughts out in social media land.

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