CAPITOLA — Five years from now the Capitola Mall could be a sprawling community hub full of apartments, parks and businesses.
That is what Merlone Geier Partners, a real estate investor based in San Francisco that owns a majority of the Capitola Mall’s footprint, is currently proposing for the once proud Santa Cruz County shopping center.
More than 600 housing units, open public spaces, “world class” retail brands, distinguished local and national restaurants and a luxury cinema have all been part of the plan during Merlone Geier’s presentations to City of Capitola officials and members of the public.
Vice President of Development Stephen Logan presented a rough outline to the planning commission and city council in early May, and showcased a more detailed look at the investor’s plan for the mall in a recent town hall meeting.
All of these changes, Logan told the council, are based off the “Create Tomorrow Together” survey conducted over roughly five months last year that nearly 8,000 “nearby” residents filled out.
“People want open space, people want a place to gather, people want some place to go with their friends,” Logan said to the Capitola City Council in a May 9 meeting. “We really take this to heart when we’re planning something like this.”
Capitola City Manager Jamie Goldstein said Merlone Geier is expected to submit an official application sometime in August or September. If OK’d by the city, the arduous process of environmental review, gathering building permits, finding contractors and demolition and construction will begin.
All of that is expected to take at least five years.
“Right now we’re at step three of 500,” Goldstein said.
But the plans are considered a step in the right direction for Capitola, which for years has tried to revitalize the mall property in different ways.
Goldstein said those efforts gained steam when Merlone Geier acquired the Sears property in December of last year. That purchase gave the company ownership of 67 percent of the property. Target, Macy’s, Citi Bank, Bank of America and Olive Garden also own smaller portions of the property, and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.
“It took some time to acquire pieces of the property,” Logan said to the city council on May 9, “but we’re very excited about what the future holds here.”
Merlone Geier’s vision of the future of the property falls in line with the City’s, Goldstein said. Among other things, Capitola’s General Plan, released in 2014, called for a major restructure of the mall that would create a “healthy and stable local economy.” Making the property friendlier to pedestrians and creating places for shoppers and families to gather were key goals included in the General Plan.
“It’s obvious [Merlone Geier] has looked at our General Plan and worked off of that, which is encouraging,” Goldstein said. “We want [the property] to be a community asset for coming generations.”
Logan at the May 9 city council meeting showcased Merlone Geier’s project in Mountain View, The Village at San Antonio Center, a 20.6-acre site that the company turned into a mixed-use center with 330 residential apartments over restaurants and retail, as an example of what the mall property could be.
Goldstein called the changes a “unique” opportunity for Capitola, but also said city officials will have to make sure the project is an overall positive for the community. Traffic, water use, its fiscal impact and a projected 10 percent growth of population all must be weighed before anything is given the green light, Goldstein said.
“We have to make sure the dollars and cents match up,” he said.