For the last 30 years, mall makeovers have meant replacing some carpet, slapping on a coat of paint and changing a few light bulbs. Not any more.

Today, mall makeovers are about creating a vibe. Mall owners all over Los Angeles are investing millions to inject their spaces with feel-good energy that, they hope, will make shoppers feel better about their mall than the one next door.

Santa Monica's Macerich Co., a real estate investment trust known in retail circles as the Mall Doctor, recently put $8 million worth of renovations into its 750,000-square-foot Westside Pavilion at Pico and Westwood boulevards.

Sales per square foot are at $425, up from $385 before the makeover, according to Macerich Chief Operating Officer David Contif.

Of course, that increase could have more to do with the currently booming retail market than with the new fountains and interior vegetation installed at Westside Pavilion, but Macerich prefers to think it's the resort-like renovations that are paying off.

"Our strategy behind the renovation was to take a center that's already successful and continue to make it more successful," Contif said. "Our goal is to get (the sales per square foot) up to $500. We want to give people a fresh, nice environment to shop in."

In addition to new fountains and cushioned benches, Macerich replaced the ceramic tile floor with over 100,000 square feet of limestone and added more than 1,000 new light fixtures, clear glass railing panels and interior landscaping.

Its tenant roster didn't change much, but Westside Pavilion did add upscale retailer Ann Taylor to the mix. The mall is home to the only Nordstrom on the Westside (until another opens at The Grove at Farmers Market in 2002). Westside Pavilion also has a Robinsons-May, a full-sized Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks, Pavilions supermarket and a four-screen cinema that features independent and foreign films. Other retailers include Banana Republic, BCBG-Max Azria, bebe, Bisou Bisou, Privilege, Charles David and Steve Madden.

Macerich's three Westside malls Westside Pavilion, Santa Monica Place and Villa Marina Marketplace serve a lucrative market area of about 1 million residents with an average annual household income of $84,000.

But Macerich can't rest on its laurels: It isn't the only mall owner vying for the Westside market and renovating to stay ahead.

Adapting to market

The Beverly Center, at La Cienega and Beverly boulevards, is also undergoing major renovations. The nearly 1 million-square-foot shopping center has close to 160 stores, including anchor tenants Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

Facing competition from Westside Pavilion and the upcoming Grove, Beverly Center owner Taubman Centers of Michigan is redesigning the parking area, remodeling the mall's interior, repainting the exterior and adding a rooftop terrace.

"As a company and as a center, we believe what brings a customer to a center is the right store, and what brings the right stores is the right environment," said Beverly Center general manager Laurel Crary. "The center was starting to look dated."

Crary would not disclose the cost to bring the mall up to date.

The renovations, in the works for over two years, are all about enticing high-caliber tenants that cater to trendy, affluent customers, Crary said.

She said the renovations weren't spurred by any recent competition, as was the case at Westside Pavilion.

"This is a very competitive environment," Crary said. "That's what L.A. is all about. We need to stay on our toes."

Crary said the future development of the Grove just a few blocks away will bring more tourists and shoppers to the area.

"Anything that revitalizes the area is good for the Beverly Center," she said. "The shopping center has become the town square, and the Beverly Center certainly is the town square for the Westside of L.A."

Worth a trip over the hill

Douglas Emmett & Co. is taking the renovation idea to new heights at its Sherman Oaks Galleria, hoping to draw shoppers and workers over the hill from Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

The mall that Valley girls made famous or perhaps vice versa will no longer be a mall at all. Valley girls, if there still are any, will have to come up with a new word for this hangout, a mix of offices, entertainment, retail and restaurants.

Sherman Oaks Galleria began to lag behind the competition in the early 1990s when Robinsons-May, the mall's anchor tenant, could not keep up with the competition at super-regional malls with multiple anchors. Nearby Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, for example, lures shoppers with Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

"This is something entirely different," said CB Richard Ellis broker Allen Young, who is marketing the Sherman Oaks Galleria project on behalf of Douglas Emmett.

Scheduled for completion early next year, the renovated property at the 405 and 101 freeways will include 700,000 square feet of office space and 300,000 square feet of new shops, restaurants and a 16-screen cineplex.

The extravagant renovations at Sherman Oaks Galleria typify a recent trend that has malls transforming themselves into something anything other than a traditional, enclosed box to stay competitive, according to Young.

"Everybody wants to shop along open-air streets like in Old Pasadena and the Third Street Promenade," he said. "It's the hot item these days. People are looking for a shopping experience that is both a lifestyle and entertainment."

Consequently, a pedestrian walkway will cut through the mall from Ventura Boulevard, leading to several sit-down restaurants, including a Cheesecake Factory restaurant.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.