December, it appeared San Bernardino was on track to solving its seemingly never-ending Carousel Mall problem.
After a debate about whether to restore the former downtown mall or level it, the city council settled on the latter option, at a cost of $8 million.
With a developer in place, it looked like the city would finally achieve the goal it had been chasing for more than a decade: convert the dilapidated property next to Interstate 215 into a mixed-use commercial-residential development.
In time, city officials believe such a project will revive San Bernardino’s downtown and make it a destination location, something city officials have wanted for years to make happen.
But San Bernardino’s attempts to fix Carousel Mall – which opened as Central City Mall in 1972 and shut down in 2017 – has been a series of abandoned plans and false starts.
This time, the roadblock came in the form of a letter from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
The March 16 letter informed the city that its plans to restore Carouse Mall included four violations of state law, the most serious transgression being that it failed to include enough affordable housing in those plans.
The state also alleges that San Bernardino failed to negotiate with two developers – BLVD Capital and Alliant Strategic Development, both developers of affordable residential space – and that it spoke with other prospective developers before declaring the mall property surplus land a violation of state law.
Finally, the state maintains that San Bernardino failed to provide the state with important information regarding its development agreement, which ultimately went to Renaissance Downtowns USA/ICO Real Estate Group in the spring of 2021.
Based on those issues, the Department of housing and community development revoked its approval and gave San Bernardino officials 60 days to correct the problems.
Shortly after the letter was made public, on March 16, San Bernardino officials said they would address the issues raised by the state agency and proceed with demolition as soon as possible, but a start date has not been announced.
Cerritos-based Resource Environment has been awarded the demolition contract. In the meantime, San Bernardino officials are planning to hold a workshop to address how to correct the state violations.
A date for that session has not been announced.
During the city council’s April 5 meeting, Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin apologized to the city regarding the latest negative developments with Carousel Mall. She called for the city to practice “more transparency” regarding the mall property, which San Bernardino officials must be restored successfully to ensure the city’s economic future.
Most of all, Calvin expressed her frustration with not being fully informed by about the city’s negotiations with developers who expressed interest in the Carousel Mall project, among other omissions, by city staff.
Specifically, Calvin said she and other council members and staff did not know that two developers who specialize in affordable housing had contacted the city about possibly bidding on redeveloping the property..
“I feel duped,” said Calvin, who chairs a three-member ad-hoc committee – council members Theodore Sanchez and Fred Shorett are the other members – that oversees the city’s efforts to restore the former mall property. “I believe the ad hoc committee was locked out of negotiations and mediations during 18 months of reports.
“Never were we able sit down and have a conversation [with developers], never did we know what direction we were going. I couldn’t tell you what they look like, because never once were we able to meet with them.”
San Bernardino has a history of creating problems that last for decades, and the only way to change that is with more transparency and greater accountability, according to Calvin..
“That is not what I signed up for,” Calvin told the council. “I did not walk as many steps and ask the people of this community to support my campaign in order to get to this dais and then fail them by not being able to be accountable for what it is the city has done.”
San Bernardino has waited long enough to see the Carousel Mall property restored, said Donald Monti, president, and chief executive officer of Renaissance Downtowns USA.
“We should do everything we can to ensure that this process moves forward,” Monti told the council. “My concern is that the council might restart the overall process, but there’s no need to do that. There are solutions that can be worked out.
“We are absolutely committed to this project and this community, and we aren’t going anywhere. Just let me show you what we’re capable of doing.”
The Carousel Mall property is “outstanding” because it’s downtown and so close to a freeway, but it also presents a lot of challenges before it can be restored, said Brad Umansky, president of Progressive Real Estate Partners in Rancho Cucamonga.
“It’s quite a piece of real estate with a lot of potentials,” said Umansky, whose brokerage specializes in real estate transactions in the Inland Empire. “What’s important is that everyone – the city council, staff, economic development – are all on the same page because restoring a property that size was never going to be easy.”