Five years ago, Westfield Group unveiled plans for a full-scale renovation of the Fox Hills Mall that banked on having Sears draw locals who had largely abandoned the center.


Then, Sears, Roebuck and Co. pulled out, and the project was sidelined.


Now, Westfield is ready to take one more stab at renovation, only to face another pullout: Robinsons-May, a casualty of Federated Department Stores Inc.'s $11 billion acquisition of May Department Stores Co.


This time, Westfield is going forward.


While the mall operator wants to replace the Robinsons-May with a different department store, the $100 million renovation centers on a mix of 70 restaurants and smaller retailers that converge around a grand entrance.


It's a nod to the popular "lifestyle" centers, such as The Grove, but it also retains the trappings of a traditional mall. "In order to compete with centers like Century City, Westside Pavilion and the Beverly Center, we need to take this big step forward," said John Goodwin, Westfield's vice president of development.


Fox Hills opened in 1975, around the start of a 20-year period when the bulk of the current malls were constructed. They were almost all enclosed structures, anchored by one or more big anchor stores such as a Macy's, Sears, or J.C. Penney.


But the layout has lost favor, first with the introduction of so-called power centers in the mid-1990s that feature big box retailers like Best Buy and Target, and now with the development of open-air lifestyle centers that have smaller specialty stores.


"We need a mall that brings people to it for a well-rounded shopping experience," said Steven Rose, a Culver City Councilman and president of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce.


In this latest effort, Westfield has pledged to involve the public. It has already held one community meeting and presented the new project before the local Chamber of Commerce. Next up, a series of city approvals.


While Fox Hills will not become a lifestyle center, elements of the concept will be incorporated into the renovations, which will add a fa & #231;ade to the Sepulveda Boulevard side and about 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. There are no movie theaters, but specialty stores and restaurants with outside eating are featured prominently. The new entrance facing Sepulveda will provide a focal point something that critics have pointed to as missing with the center's hodgepodge of entrances. The revamped entrance and sidewalks are also meant to give the mall an outside walking component.


The plan has generally been given good reviews by the city. "Everyone accepted it as a very positive development," said Rose.


But getting the plan approved is only half the battle. Westfield must now try securing new tenants. Nearby residents and business owners are pushing for higher-end stores that will cater to locals who now shop at the Beverly Center and other malls scattered throughout the region.


"I expect them to have stores that are more along the lines of what you find at Century City and Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach," said Steve Bell, president of the Fox Hills Neighborhood Association.


So far, Westfield has not made any decisions about the tenants and is getting input from the community. Culver City has handed the mall operator a list of retailers and restaurants it would like to see, including Diesel, Coach, Crabtree & Evelyn, Pier One, Ann Taylor and Roxy.


But at a time when much of the region is over-stored, getting those retailers could be a challenge. Another potential obstacle is the mixed demographics of the community, which could temper interest among higher-end retailers looking for sure bets.


Developed over golf courses and horse stables, the mall's original May Company, Broadway and J.C. Penney drew locals and those from outside the community before competitors such as the Beverly Center were built.


Once the new malls came, competition ate into Fox Hill's customer base. TrizecHahn Corp., the mall's owner before Westfield bought it for $80.5 million in 1998, looked for whatever tenant it could get, even if it meant signing short-term leases.


David Oliver, owner of Ames, a dress and sportswear store that was among the first tenants, has been pleased that Westfield has made efforts to enhance the mall. Still, he said, the mall has a long way to go. "I would like to see them attract a broader ethnic mix and go after the baby boomer. They can if they give them a reason to come there," Oliver said.

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