NOLA L. SARKISIAN

Staff Reporter

Westside Pavilion has had its share of problems since opening along a busy stretch of Pico Boulevard in 1985.

Residents first complained about traffic congestion to the mall. Then came a jewelry store robbery in 1991 and a gang shoot-out the next year. Then in 1994, the Northridge earthquake leveled a ramp on the top deck of the mall parking structure and blocked a prime entrance to the food court for months.

Meanwhile, Westwood Too the mall's awkwardly placed 100,000-square-foot open-air addition that opened in 1991 has had a hard time competing against newer regional shopping centers.

All of which posed some serious challenges to Macerich Co. when it bought the 850,000-square-foot mall eight months ago for $170.5 million.

"When we first looked at the mall, we saw that many changes needed to be made," says David Contis, chief operating officer of the Santa Monica-based real estate investment trust. "Our goal is to improve the tenant mix and the look of the mall. We see a big opportunity."

To date, only modest changes have occurred. Two new tenants have signed leases and four more tenant deals are in the works. But after months of meeting with city officials, nearby residents and existing tenants, Macerich officials are crafting a plan they hope will change the fortunes of their new property.

"We've sent out about 30 letters to challenge merchants to perform better and we are reviewing their sales," said Contis. "We're also assessing the needs of other stores. Some need to expand. Others perform well, but need less space."

The vacancy rate is not a critical problem in the main mall, where 98 percent of the space is occupied and the Westside's only Nordstrom is one of the anchors. But merchants and shoppers alike have complained about the lack of upscale tenants to complement other stores, like Robinsons-May, Banana Republic, The Gap, Limited and BCBG.

Yigal Asseraf, manager of the Privilege women's clothing store, said his shop struggles despite being located on the first floor, next to Nordstrom.

"My sales have declined in the past three years," he said. "We have some nice stores here, but every mall has them. We have nothing special here to separate us, which is what we need."

To make space available for more-desirable tenants, mall management said some expiring leases may not be renewed. One sporting goods retailer could be replaced by an Ann Taylor store, and a Canadian shoe retailer has tentatively agreed to lease space.

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