The council has agreed to level the abandon downtown facility, but one lower-than-expected demolition offer has some members asking if that bid might be too low. The matter will probably be resolved next month.
After months of wrangling, the San Bernardino City Council has agreed that the Carousel Mall needs to be leveled.
The only question now is how much is the city willing to pay to get that job done, and eliminate from downtown an eyesore that is slowly becoming a public health hazard, according to observers.
Last month, city staff reviewed demolition proposals from six companies with bids that ranged from $7.7 million to $29 million. The council appeared ready to accept the lowest offer, but it stopped short off approving the bid made by Resource Environmental, a full-service hazardous material abatement and demolition company in Cerritos.
Staff had added $2.3 million to the proposed contract before bringing it to the council for approval, money that would be used to pay for any issues that might come up during the leveling of abandoned shopping mall next to Interstate 215.
Besides bringing the contract to $10 million, the extra money would have capped the agreement between Resource Environmental and San Bernardino at $10 million. San Bernardino would not pay for any unforeseen cost overruns beyond those covered by the $2.3 million.
If it seems strange for a city to want to volunteer to pay extra for something, without being asked to do so, it is. The low bid on such a project is often the one selected, unless something unusual is uncovered during the contract negotiations.
But the Carousel Mall demolition is not just any project. Once the mall in the center of the city is torn down, the city wants to develop a 43-acre project that would include commercial, office and residential elements.
Much of San Bernardino’s economic future depends on whether that mixed-use project – no matter what shape it takes – transforms the city’s downtown into a place where people want to live and work. That’s why the council postponed its vote and asked staff to compile reports on all six demolition proposals.
Those reports are expected to be presented to the council at its Dec. 7 meeting.
Officials with Resource Environmental did not return calls seeking comment.
The difference between the Resource Environmental proposal and the other bids was enough that it called for closer scrutiny, said Councilman Theodore Sanchez.
“We want to do more due diligence, and make sure the ($7.7 million) proposal is fully vetted,” said Sanchez, who represents San Bernardino’s first ward, in which the Carousel Mall is located. “We want to make sure they didn’t miss something crucial. Say we give them the contract, and six months later they take another look at the property and decide they didn’t see something the first time, and the price goes way up.
“That’s the one thing we have to avoid.”
The former mall has also become a public nuisance, even a health hazard, since it was shut down permanently in August 2017.
During the past five years, the abandoned property has sustained multiple three-alarm fires – the most recent one in September, which typically requires three engines and a supervisor. The property has also been overrun by transients suspected of stealing copper wire and other items from the site.
A Rialto woman was shot to death in the parking lot in July, and three months later a man’s body was found inside an electrical vault on the mall property, not long after a fire was reported there. San Bernardino officials believe the man was trying to steal copper wire and did not know that the electricity was turned on, according to a published report.
“It’s a danger to anyone who goes near it,” Sanchez said. “It’s become a health hazard, and that’s probably the number one reason we have to tear it down as soon as we can.”
Mayor John Valdivia criticized the council for not approving demolition of the mall at its Nov. 2 meeting, accusing it of “overthinking” the issue.
“Everyone agrees that the mall is a nuisance to downtown and that it must demolished, but then they decide not to demolish it,” Valdivia said. “Why are we waiting? It’s a safety hazard. We have to get rid of it.”
Carousel Mall performed well during its first 20 years or so, but it ran into trouble in the early 1990s when downtown began to deteriorate and more shoppers began to patronize Inland Center Mall.
In 2003, Carousel Mall lost its last anchor tenant, JC Penney, it had already lost Gottschalks, which moved to Inland Center Mall, and Montgomery Ward.
Nearly 20 years later, it’s difficult to exaggerate how important it is for San Bernardino to revive its downtown, and that process must start with the leveling of the city-owned Carousel Mall, which opened in 1972 as Central City Mall.
It changed its name to Carousel Mall in 1991, after a children’s carousel was installed on the ground floor.
“This is the catalyst for the redevelopment of downtown San Bernardino,” Sanchez said. “If we can restore downtown and get it working, make it a nice place to live and work, there will be a domino effect. You will see more development, more businesses will come in and the neighborhoods around the mall will improve.
‘’But we can’t do anything without a demolition. We all agree on that.”