By the edhat staff
In a surprising move, the City of Santa Barbara has set forth an ambitious plan to pursue the possibility of demolishing the downtown Paseo Nuevo mall and replace it with a housing development containing approximately 500 residential units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to initiate negotiations for a project agreement, marking a significant step towards the realization of this transformative endeavor.
The mall structure is a little complicated as there are different owners for different sections. Currently the proposed plan is to demolish the vacant Macy’s building, located at the corner of State and Ortega streets, and the rest of the mall structure except for the vacant Nordstrom building at the corner of Chapala and Canon Perdido, which has different owners.
The Paseo Nuevo Mall was erected in 1990 to attract more visitors and local shopping to the downtown area. With the rise of online shopping and retail giants restructuring, the outdoor shopping mall has received fewer and fewer visitors. Its flagship stores flanked on either side, Macy’s and Nordstrom, vacated their spaces several years ago.
In April of 2019, a $20 million renovation project broke ground at the mall with hopes to reinvigorate the shopping center. The updates included entertainment space, community areas with group games including a bocce ball and giant chess pieces, charging stations, increased al-fresco dining, art installations with enhanced lighting and water/fire features, an updated logo, refreshed Spanish tile steps near the Arts Terrace, drought-tolerant landscaping, and new “shopping experiences.” At the time the Paseo Nuevo Management also committed $200,000 to identify supportive solutions for Santa Barbara’s homeless population.
During Tuesday’s meeting, city leaders expressed their belief that repurposing Paseo Nuevo into a housing project will revitalize the downtown area.
Under a complex arrangement, the city intends to work out a project agreement and subsequently a development agreement. Alliance Bernstein Commercial, which holds the mall’s leases, is collaborating with The Georgetown Company to develop the housing portion of the project. While Nordstrom is not currently involved, one of the owners expressed optimism about the reinvestment in the community.
The new development would likely consist of buildings reaching 60 feet in height and encompass a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units including a significant number of below-market-rate units, specifically two-bedroom units for families.
While rental prices remain uncertain, the project’s financial viability could hinge on the construction of a substantial amount of market-rate housing.
City council members expressed various priorities for the development. These include preserving community event spaces, maintaining current architectural elements, and ensuring the development remains open and connected to State Street.
Georgetown has enlisted architectural firm Gensler, along with local firm DMHA, to contribute to the project. Council members have expressed enthusiasm and excitement about the potential benefits this housing project would bring to the community, viewing it as a catalyst for downtown revitalization.