SPOTLIGHT ON VALENCIA

Retail-Office Complex Gives Community a 'Main Street'

By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Staff Reporter

Anyone who hasn't visited Valencia for a while is in for a surprise it now actually has a "downtown."

For years, the master-planned Santa Clarita Valley community had been the quintessential suburban outpost: cookie-cutter tract homes, neighborhood shopping centers and office/industrial parks minus the heavy users. Even City Hall is located inside a nondescript office building.

Then a funny thing happened to the Valencia Town Center, the regional mall built 10 years ago by the Newhall Land & Farming Co., the developer that created Valencia from scratch starting in the mid 1960s.

On what had formerly been mall parking and undeveloped land, the company built Town Center Drive, a "Main Street" that combines retail, restaurants, entertainment, offices, a hotel and housing in a mix that older communities are using to revitalize their downtowns. Newhall Land officials say the center is virtually entirely leased.

"The reality is that it has given what a community like ours was lacking, a place to gather," said Jeff Lambert, the city's planning director. "People might drive there to walk, but they walk. I think people are hungry for the interaction."

The $200 million project, which is nearing completion, got its start with a single office building Newhall Land constructed on mall property in 1996. But it has its roots in the original master plan, dating back four decades when Victor Gruen, Valencia's designer, envisioned a "town center" located in the center of the city.

Mall came first

Newhall Land decided in the late 1980s to locate its regional mall in that location, saving acreage for the then-unformed downtown concept. It also required the department stores that signed on Sears, Robinson-May, and others to agree to a project alongside it.

"That was one of the hardest part of the negotiations (for the mall)," said Marlee Lauffer, Newhall's spokeswoman. "It was unusual in those days."

Company officials scouted downtowns nationwide, from Santa Barbara to Reston Va., before coming up with its pedestrian-oriented "mall meets Main Street" plan that extends the mall outward and gets motorists out of their cars.

Town Center Drive spans from the mall's main entrance, across a city thoroughfare to the Valencia Country Club Golf Course. It features old-fashioned lamp posts and angled street parking. Other parking is available in multi-level garages behind the street frontage.

The section closest to the mall has low-slung buildings and store fronts that are home to national retailers like Ann Taylor and Nine West, as well as a few local stores. Princess Cruises is located in several mid-sized office buildings. There also is an entertainment plaza with a 12-screen Edwards Cinema.

The street ends with a 244-room Hyatt Hotel that includes the valley's first convention center. Nearby are additional retail stores, professional offices, a Spectrum Health Club, as well as a 216-unit upscale apartment complex. More apartments are under construction.

"It's been incredible, beyond expectations," said Lesleen Kukucka, 30, co-owner of Just Us Girls, a women's casual clothing retailer near the Hyatt. "Every day I have new people coming into the store who have never been her before."

The stores, restaurants and movie theaters are mostly patronized by residents of the greater Santa Clarita Valley, but the place draws others for summer concerts. Newhall Land officials say that an October street painting festival drew 120,000 visitors.

"We love the summer concerts here," said Kim Zimmerman, 34, a Stevenson Ranch homemaker who was out shopping recently on the street with two young children in tow. "On summer nights we stroll up and down. It's lovely, and (to think) it was a parking lot."

The company would like to expand the mall by bringing in Macy's and Nordstrom, though there's no indication when or if that might happen. Meantime, Town Center Drive has spurred the development of a nearby outdoor mall, and there's also talk that discount retailer Kohls Corp. may locate a store nearby.

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