Riverwalk, rooftop gardens, yoga pitched for Carousel Mall site in San Bernardino

What should San Bernardino do with the old Carousel Mall? This debate has been going on for most of the 21st century, and the latter part of the 20th, but a decision may be closer after two developers unveiled their big-ticket ideas last week.

The City Council heard the competing proposals Wednesday in a virtual meeting. I watched online, curious about the plans for such an important site: 43 acres off the 215 Freeway and an entry point for downtown.

I don’t know if we can compare the Carousel Mall process to a merry-go-round, but after 11 interested developers were winnowed to five and then two, it at least qualifies as a game of elimination, like Simon Says.

The former Central City Mall, opened in 1972, had lost anchor stores Harris’, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney by 2003 yet limped along before shuttering for good in 2017. At least three redevelopment plans fell by the wayside when the mall was still open.

“This has been a long time coming,” the city’s planning director said at the meeting’s start.

The two developers pitched their plans. The council may pick one on March 3, according to my colleague Brian Whitehead, who wrote the official story on the meeting. I’m just here to give my take.

First up was SCG America, based in Garden Grove.

Its mixed-use development would have 1,875 residential units, from studio apartments to for-sale townhomes, as well as a food hall, fitness center with yoga, hotel, outdoor dining, shops, offices and open space. A small portion of the mall would remain as an open-air community hub.

The project would be called The Galand — pronounced “Guh-LAWND,” in case you want to impress your friends — and would consist of six walkable “districts.” “What we’re proposing here is a true neighborhood,” one development rep explained.

The “village green” park would be a flexible space. It could be used for outdoor movies, live music, a farmers market or simply, the rep said, “reading a book.”

I’m on my way with a paperback. Build the entire development around me.

Their concept certainly had nice renderings: a hotel with upper-story terraces, a food hall opening onto a public plaza, strings of overhead lights, people strolling through a park with gleaming multistory buildings behind it. It looked like something in the 310, not the 909.

It’s not that San Bernardino can’t have nice things, but if Riverside is chasing away homeless people doing their wash in city fountains, maybe the renderings should have included a guy pushing a shopping cart, just for local color.

Council members seemed skeptical, if not always for the right reasons.

Damon Alexander said his constituents are concerned that traffic will increase. Was he kidding? Were they? I thought the whole purpose of investing hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown was to get people to show up. (“The city,” the developer’s rep replied politely, “has an oversupply of roads.”)

Kimberly Calvin and Sandra Ibarra said the housing that’s envisioned would price out lower-income residents, including many who would work at the new businesses. That’s valid, although they’d have much of the rest of the city to live in, and the development’s purpose is to improve downtown, not offer more of the same.

Fred Shorett questioned the $1 million offered by the developers for exclusive negotiating rights with the city, saying that was peanuts compared to the $800 million project and wondering if that meant they weren’t serious. Good point. If they lose interest in San Bernardino, maybe they can repurpose their renderings for West L.A.

After a break, we heard from the other developer. Downtown Renaissance and ICO Real Estate had been competing separately before deciding to join forces. They’re based in New York City and Los Angeles, respectively. Bicoastal expertise!

Because ICO has built projects in San Bernardino and surrounding cities, “we understand this market better than anyone,” its rep said. He and his team dismissed SCG’s project as not financially feasible.

Downtown Renaissance/ICO’s proposal was “a vision, not a specific plan,” one principal said. Among the few details offered was that they would listen to the community, seek millions in federal grants and plant rooftop gardens to grow produce for local restaurants.

Also, they want a Riverwalk. That’s an intriguing idea in a city that has no river but does have a high water table. Is this a new spin on the old Lakes idea for downtown?

Further, they want to expand the scope from 43 acres to, gulp, 300 acres. “You’re going to reinvent your downtown,” another principal said.

That’s what San Bernardino did in the 1960s and ’70s in the mass condemnation of older buildings that gave us, ironically, Central City Mall, as well as a new City Hall and the Security Pacific Bank.

Joining the call was an official from New Rochelle, New York, a suburb I know only as the setting of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” In New Rochelle, too, 300 acres were targeted. The official said Downtown Renaissance was reviving his city’s own “stagnant” core with some 40 projects built or approved in the past five years.

He didn’t specify what the projects are, but based on assiduous TV watching I’m assuming they involve the production or sale of separate beds for couples, capri pants and ottomans.

“You will not get a second chance to get this right,” a development rep said. A slide that filled the screen read: “Act Now! If not now, WHEN???”

Is there an 800 number for San Bernardino to call?


The sheriff of San Bernardino County, John McMahon, got a COVID-19 vaccination, posting video Jan. 20 in which he said in part: “I’ve decided it’s my best course of action to get vaccinated to protect myself as well as those that I come into contact with.” Meanwhile, the sheriff of Riverside County, Chad Bianco, who has boasted that he had no need for a vaccination, tested positive Jan. 19 and has been quarantining at home with mild symptoms. Ah, irony. But best wishes to him.

David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, tests of your patience. Email [email protected], phone 909-483-9339, visit insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

This content was originally published here.

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