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A MEGA-MALL? EXPANDED TOPANGA COMPLEX COULD LINK UP WITH PROMENADE.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

CANOGA PARK - A massive redevelopment and expansion of the Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga mall - including construction of two free-standing stores for major retailers - has won approval of Los Angeles city planners.

The proposal would add three parking garages and 598,800 square feet of retail space, an increase that will bring the mall at Victory and Topanga Canyon boulevards to 1.65 million square feet.

Real estate experts said the plan could be a prelude to a mega-mall project connecting the Topanga site with the Westfield Shoppingtown Promenade, a block away at Topanga Canyon and Erwin Street in Woodland Hills.

Under the plan, the nearly 40-year-old Topanga mall - the largest mall in the far west San Fernando Valley - would get a major overhaul. A vacant Montgomery Ward store on the east side of the mall would be razed, and the Nordstrom on the west side would be used by other retail stores.

Nordstrom would occupy a new, separate 225,000-square-foot building along Owensmouth Street and a second three-story building would be built just to the north of it for an unnamed major retailer.

Robinsons-May would expand toward Vanowen Street. Three parking structures would be built along Owensmouth, according to drawings on file with the city. Office space might also be added.

``It's very early in the stages,'' said Catherine Dickey, a spokeswoman for Westfield, a Los Angeles real estate investment trust.

``The city's granted project approval for a project - it's approximately 600,000 square feet of new gross leasable area. There's some internal planning to do, and the next step would be to seek building permits. I don't have a time frame yet, but it's an exciting prospect that Westfield's working on.''

The project has the support of West Valley Councilman Dennis Zine so the tract map is likely to get approval of the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Approval on June 6 of Westfield's proposal to redraw its tract map to include office space and the additional retail by Robert Sutton, the city's deputy director of planning, moved that long-expected linkage of the two malls closer to reality.

``I don't think that's a rumor, I think it's what they want to do,'' said Tom Glick, a city planning associate. ``Ultimately, they want to connect both sites.''

With the $35 million Promenade redevelopment largely finished, Westfield holds a major stake in keeping the area vibrant. According to Glick, with the two properties and much of the land in between, co-owned with the Warner Family Trust, the developer owns 10 percent of the Warner Center area.

Linking the sites, with mixed-use office or residential areas in between, is the next logical step, according to local real estate and retail experts.

``It makes a lot of sense because it becomes such a huge destination,'' said Roberto Barragan, president of the Valley Economic Development Center.

``I think the city would be supportive of it, so there's no reason why they couldn't connect it. They'd continue to bring in more sales tax dollars, and it would make sense because that land's not very well utilized in between.''

Currently, the space between the malls on the north side holds a closed movie theater, several restaurants and vacant lots used for auto and RV sales.

Joining the sites together could create a mega-mall on a par with South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, making a major regional attraction pairing the premium shopping of Topanga with the entertainment venues of the Promenade.

The area between the two could include more retail and office space similar to that at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, or housing such as Paseo Colorado and the recently unveiled Sunset & Vine.

Dickey could provide no information on the land, but city officials said the linkage would face no legislative opposition, provided it falls within restrictions outlined by the Warner Center Specific Plan.

``That's one of the areas with the fewest zoning restrictions,'' said Tom Henry, Zine's planning deputy. ``Donald Trump could build the Trump Tower if he wanted to there, as long as it's within the plan.''

Westfield's plan, zoned in a C4 commercial space, indeed falls within the Warner Center regulations, as would a possible link between the two.

Brad Rosenheim, executive director of the Warner Center Association and a consultant for Warner Center Associates, said the developer does not enter into such plans lightly.

``Westfield has been in the process of evaluating that for quite some time,'' he said. ``This could be the first move toward that. ... Westfield's a bunch of pros - they know what the market's all about. They've had very good judgment in the past.''

Filling the space within Topanga's newly created space could present an interesting challenge.

Nordstrom has yet to sign a letter of intent on the proposed property and adding another retailer large enough to fill an anchor spot could be difficult.

Of major chains, Kohl's is on the expansion path and it first pointed to the Fallbrook Center as its likely destination.

JCPenney has been contracting lately, closing its West Hills store last year, and Federated Department Stores' disappointing sales don't point to an expansion. Macy's, a Federated chain, occupies the Promenade mall. Bloomingdale's, another Federated chain, has a store in the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. Saks Fifth Avenue closed its Promenade store when the mall was renovated.

All other major chains already have a significant local presence, and a big-box electronics retailer would be unlikely with Best Buy's store on Victory Boulevard.

Barragan said the Topanga mall is well situated and a popular shopping destination, but needs a change to keep up with the competition.

``Malls are destination retail. Smaller retailers want to be somewhere people are attracted by bigger stores. For Topanga to continue to be a destination and beat out other malls, they'll need to keep growing or they'll lose out to Glendale and Porter Ranch.''

CAPTION(S):

photo, map

Photo:

Owners of the Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga mall in Canoga Park have recently received approval to expand the shopping center more than 1.6 million square feet.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

Map:

WESTFIELD SHOPPINGTOWN TOPANGA

SOURCE: Daily News research

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 2002
Words:1023
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