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Downtown Gets New Life in Plans for Mall, Luxury Lofts

Downtown Gets New Life in Plans for Mall, Luxury Lofts

SPOTLIGHT on LONG BEACH





By DEBORAH BELGUM

Staff Reporter

Downtown Long Beach is the city’s center of activity these days, as a new shopping mall and several new residential projects bring a resurgence of development.

More than $1 billion is going into an area that developers and city officials have tried to transform since the 1980s, although progress has been spotty in recent years.

A nearly half-million square foot open-air mall called CityPlace, which is scheduled to open in late fall, anchors the changes.

Nearby, developers have been snapping up long-shuttered 80-year-old buildings that were once offices or stores and converting them into high-end artist lofts selling for $244 to $300 per square foot or upscale apartments with the latest fiber optic technology.

Some 2,000 residential units will be added to the downtown core area in the next few years, said Todd Cutts, economic development director for Downtown Long Beach Associates, a non-profit organization operating on behalf of the property owners and tenants in the Business Improvement District.

“We will eventually become an urban core that is a 24-hour site,” Cutts said. “There are many in-fill downtown projects we see moving in.”

Projects include the old Walker’s Department store at 4th Street and Pine Avenue. The four-story building was constructed in 1929 and had been abandoned for 10 years when Bill Lindborg, president of Borg Development Corp., bought it for $3 million in 1999. With $9 million, he added another six floors to build 39 lofts and seven penthouses. More than 90 percent of the residential units have been sold, he said.

The lofts, varying in size from 1,020 square feet to 1,800 square feet, sold for $275,000 to $475,000. The penthouses are going for $750,000 to $855,000.

“We’ve been following the growth corridors of many cities and this fell into a growing urban area,” the loft developer said, explaining why he was so eager to enter the Long Beach market.

Plans to change downtown Long Beach from decline started in the late 1980s when John Morris opened Mum’s, an elegant and now popular restaurant, the first in an area where there now are several eateries. By the early 1990s, a movie theater complex operated by AMC Theatres opened its doors.

Soon came other restaurants and stores.

Loss of momentum

While the first three blocks of Pine Avenue have been successfully developed, it was the next three blocks, from 3rd to 6th streets, that provided a challenge. In the mid-1990s, redevelopment stalled as real estate prices slumped and developers became more cautious.

The city has had a mixed record on recent redevelopment projects. The Aquarium of the Pacific, which opened in 1998 after $117 million in private revenue bonds were sold, has had disappointing attendance figures.

Across from the aquarium, a retail/entertainment complex called Queensway Bay was scheduled to open a few years ago. But that project has had difficulties after Edwards Theatres Inc., which signed up as a tenant, filed for bankruptcy protection. Edwards bowed out, and Crown Theatres has signed an agreement to open a 15-screen cinema.

CityPlace is a $75 million project that replaces Long Beach Plaza. The city and the redevelopment agency kicked in $17.4 million in subsidies to get the new mall off the ground. The city owns the 2,400-space parking lot and will operate it. With a pedestrian friendly design and a mix of 341 apartments and condominiums, CityPlace is expected to rejuvenate the three blocks between 3rd and 6th streets.

To the north of CityPlace, Santa Monica-based New Urban West Inc. bought the historic Masonic Temple a few years ago after seeing a flurry of projects go up in the area.

Developers are converting the 1927 Greek revival buildings into 85 residential lofts.

Likewise, Dan Peterson saw potential for an old building that had been abandoned for more than a decade. The historic Insurance Exchange Building, a 1924 art deco structure a few blocks southeast of CityPlace, had served as a department store and an office building before Peterson bought it last year for $1.1 million.

By the end of the year, the building should have 10 artist lofts and one penthouse for sale.

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