The city council is scheduled to discuss two proposed mixed-use projects for the 43-acre site, which has been vacant since the mall closed nearly four years ago. Whatever is built there will help determine the future of downtown San Bernardino.
Could San Bernardino finally be on the verge of fixing its Carousel Mall problem?
We’ll know more on March 3, when the city council is scheduled to discuss, in an online meeting, two development proposals for the 43-acre downtown property. Council members heard about both proposals last month during a special meeting in which representatives from both projects made their pitch.
Either would make a massive transformation of downtown San Bernardino, with residential, retail and entertainment components. Both seek to bring back the area’s original street layout and make downtown more accessible for walkers, while also creating a community gathering place.
“For years the city has been trying to fix Carousel Mall, but it’s never been able to do it,” Mayor John Valdivia said of the one-time regional shopping mall, which is owned by San Bernardino. “It’s still a great piece of property, and doing something with it is the city’s highest priority. And now we have two good proposals to look at.”
One of those proposals is from SGA America, in Garden Grove. It’s proposing “The Galand,” an $800 million mixed-use pedestrian friendly project that will “become a catalyst for the future revitalization of downtown San Bernardino,” according to the developer.
The Galand will have approximately 2.25 million square feet of square feet of mixed-use development that will include:
- 1,875 units of multi-family residences;
- 38,800 square feet of retail;
- 54,800 square feet of food and beverage;
- 24,000 square feet of entertainment;
- a 40,000 square feet fitness center;
- two office buildings totaling 202,000 square feet;
- a 150-unit boutique hotel and a 150-unit “condotel,” both of which would share the same building.
More than 8,000 square feet of the mall building will be renovated for community use, the focal point of which will be Galand Green, a two-acre open space. Galand Green will feature shaded seating areas, a large lawn, landscaped pathways and a stage.
It will host events year-round including holiday celebrations, summer movie nights, and a farmers’ market.
When completed, The Galand will have brought back San Bernardino’s historic street system in part by extending F and G streets into the site, which will make it move between the site and downtown.
The project is expected to create 562 permanent jobs and generate $15 million a year in state and local tax revenue, according to SGA America.
The second proposal, by Renaissance/ICO, also wants to make the downtown property just east of Interstate 215 friendly for walkers by reestablishing the area’s historic street grid. Ultimately, the site could have as many as 3,500 new residential units, with retail, entertainment, commercial and office components.
Renaissance/ICO is also proposing planting enough trees to create an “urban canopy” on the site, while installing a trolley car route and a Riverwalk with gondola rides.
Although not as detailed as SGA America’s proposal, Renaissance/ICO does make it clear that it views the Carousel Mall property as a site with enormous long-term potential and a possible model for future urban development statewide.
In other words, San Bernardino – which has been trying fix the Carousel Mall property since it began shedding anchor tenants and losing ground to Inland Center Mall across town more than 20 years ago – has a chance to do something unique, something beyond refurbishing a large piece of its downtown.
“The opportunity exists to look at this redevelopment [project] as a catalyst for a more holistic and comprehensive approach,” Renaissance/ICO states in its presentation. “This will create a true downtown that, … will become the poster child for downtown redevelopment in California. We strongly recommend that the city and their planning team view this redevelopment opportunity as transformative.”
Whatever ends up on the property – and something must be developed there to create a viable downtown – it will be a major improvement over its present state: a shuttered, abandoned facility surrounded by fences to keep out intruders, a building well beyond repair.
Carousel Mall 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 bottom floor.
By 2003, its three anchor tenants – Harris-Gottschalks, Montgomery Ward and JCPenney, – had all shut down, and none were replaced. Over time, the property was hurt by the growing popularity of online shopping, something all regional shopping malls have had to deal with. In its last days it became a gathering place for gang members.
It was shut down, quietly in July 2017, after years of sluggish attendance, multiple changes of ownership and failed attempts at a revival that included leasing some of the mall to office tenants.
At one point there was a proposal to remove the roof and transform the property into an outdoor facility similar to Riverside Plaza, which underwent a similar refurbishment.
That was never tried, nor was filling the mall with international tenants, an idea mall management briefly considered, but never implemented, in the early 2000’s.
When it closed, Carousel Mall had only 14 tenants, none of them anchors.
Once it became obvious that the mall could not be saved, San Bernardino officials declared that they wanted a mix of retail, residential and office development on the site. Three years ago, the city hired a consulting firm to help it put a deal together, to no avail.
Now it has two major proposals to consider, and there’s a sense of urgency in city hall to get something done soon, Councilman Theodore Sanchez said.
“I think they’re two pretty fascinating projects, but we are at the whims of the market,” said Sanchez, a council member for two and a half years. “The window is open now, but it feels like it might be closing.”