Far from the freeways in Huntington Beach, can Pacific City draw crowds to O.C.’s newest alterna-mall?

Food, shops rollout

Opening in November: Ways & Means Oyster House, Ways & Means At Home, Simmzy’s (gastropub), Lemonade (modern cafeteria selling gourmet stews, sandwiches), Ola Mexican Cuisine, Saint Marc (European-influenced cafe), Equinox (upscale fitness club), Irene’s Story (clothing), The Plantation (home furnishings), Ocean Blue (art gallery), H&M, Crazy Shirts, MAC Cosmetics, West of Camden (men’s and women’s merchandise), Saavy Naturals (luxury soaps, soon to be featured on Shark Tank); The Wearhouse (women’s clothing and accessories)

Opening in December: Backhouse Yakitori & Sushi, TankFarm (men’s accessories), Top Dog Barkery

Coming in 2016: Seafolly (Australian swimwear brand), Molly Brown’s (designer swimwear), American Dream (burgers and craft beer), Bear Flag (fish tacos), Bungalow (nightclub), Burnt Crumbs (sandwiches), Hans’ Homemade Ice Cream, PopBar, Heirlooms & Hardware (vintage home store), Petals & Pop (floral shop), Sephora, Smocking Birds (children’s boutique), Old Crow Smokehouse and Pie-Not.

Source: Tenants, DJM

Reports of the American mall’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The brick-and-mortar shopping experience has been completely reimagined in the last two decades. While traditional malls are fading in popularity, themed alterna-malls are the rage, and Orange County has led the way.

The Irvine Spectrum Center and Bella Terra in Huntington Beach are local examples of the entertainment center. The anti-mall concept (one-off retailers and restaurants in repurposed older buildings) has been a hit here, too: the Lab in Costa Mesa, 4th Street Market in Santa Ana, the Anaheim Packing House.

The latest addition to the alterna-mall scene is Pacific City in Huntington Beach, which opens Nov. 5. Daring and unorthodox, the long, rambling complex is a significant gamble. It’s on the coast, many miles from the nearest freeway, and its principal anchor is a 28,000-square-foot food hall that will offer a multitude of culinary possibilities.

Pacific City doesn’t look like any mall you’ve seen. Its storefronts are a Disneyland-like architectural pastiche, and plenty of valuable space has been given over to outdoor plazas, albeit with spectacular ocean views.

It’s risky to put a large retail and restaurant complex in such a location.

“Just south along PCH you have a lot of competition for dining,” said Greg Stoffel of Stoffel & Associates, an Irvine-based shopping center consulting firm. “You’ve got Fashion Island, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach. And to the north you’ve got the Bolsa Chica (Ecological Reserve) and the naval weapons station. That’s a physical and psychological barrier (for shoppers).”

But if its creators’ hunches and years of research pan out, Pacific City could become Orange County’s version of The Grove in Los Angeles, or San Francisco’s Ferry Building – a place that captures and celebrates the spirit of its community.


Pacific City retail and food hub hopes to be luxury alternative to Huntington Beach’s Main Street

With almost 60 stores and restaurants in its 191,000-square-foot coastal footprint (14 of them will be ready for business on opening day), the $135 million development on Pacific Coast Highway just south of the pier is part of a 31-acre hotel, retail and residential project. Pacific City’s developers and designers hope that its food, health and leisure lifestyle themes will mesh perfectly with national trends and Surf City’s easygoing vibe.

Developer DJM Capital Partners was invited by the city to consider taking on the project because of its success with Bella Terra, another Huntington Beach alterna-mall. Linda Berman, chief marketing officer for DJM, described previous development proposals for Pacific City as “overambitious and not really sensitive to the location.” DJM recommended architect Jerde Partnership because of the firms’ effective partnership in developing Bella Terra.

Jerde is responsible for San Diego’s Horton Plaza and L.A.’s Universal CityWalk, and it shepherded the creation of Fashion Island’s successful 1989 updating.

Tammy McKerrow, Pacific City’s principal architect, and her colleagues at Jerde had to work out several challenges unique to the site.

“We were dealing with a large commercial project but we wanted to (blend it) into the residential scale of downtown Huntington Beach,” she said.

Pacific City also had to smooth the stark transition between two worlds: a quiet neighborhood of homes and small apartments on one side and two massive hotels on the other. The Hyatt and Hilton will soon be joined by a third hotel, the 250-room Pasea Hotel and Spa, adjoining Pacific City to the south.


Pacific City hotel gets name, breaks ground

One of the biggest changes in mall architecture is an increased sensitivity to location and customers. Gone are the days when a stark, anonymous modernist box housed hundreds of chain retailers, anchored at either end by a well-known department store. Today’s malls are more intimate and distinctive, emphasizing low-key approachability and unique retail choices over mass-market convenience.

Pacific City follows that cue. The project features recycled wood, teak, smooth stucco, metal-clad siding, stone, the details of barn architecture and other touches to create the effect of buildings that “bring the comfort of the home environment to a commercial setting,” in McKerrow’s words.

The look is a mishmash of textures, colors and design allusions. At times it can be riotous and busy, but there’s a playful, inviting quality to the place, especially the airy top level; it seems perfectly attuned to its beach location.

Berman’s firm was determined to find a visual aesthetic that celebrated Huntington Beach without simplifying it or resorting to cliché.

“We thought a lot about, ‘How do you do that in a way that isn’t predictable?’ We didn’t want to just stick a surfboard on everything. We didn’t want it to look like we were coming late to the party and being naïve or self-serving.”

Berman added that DJM also wanted to avoid simply duplicating the look and energy of Surf City’s iconic Main Street.

“Downtown is sort of beloved and has a mythos to it. But we didn’t want to be an extension of Main Street. We’re not competing with it. We don’t want to put any of those tenants out of business. I think we will attract a different clientele.”

At one end of the complex is something you’d never see downtown: the food hall, called Lot 579, which resembles a large barn. (It is slated to open in February.) The reference makes sense to McKerrow. “We wanted it to reflect its purpose. Also, the pitched roof references the residential area around the project.”

Another challenge was meshing Pacific City with the footprint of a preexisting project on the site, which had been abandoned years ago in a partially completed state. “We had to adapt to the existing columns and foundation,” McKerrow said. “The buildings sit on top of that.”

An underground 900-car parking garage was retained, though its two ramp entrances were realigned to make them flow more efficiently. Above the foundation lines the complex was brought forward to give it a more emphatic presence from the front and allow some surface parking on the property’s backside.

The third project on the site is The Residences at Pacific City, a collection of 516 upscale apartments that will be completed next year by Denver real estate investment trust UDR. They will be connected to the mall and hotel via a horseshoe-shaped walkway.

Pacific City is the high point of a busy career for McKerrow. She looked at other innovative urban retail spaces, including the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Brentwood County Mart in Los Angeles and, especially, San Francisco’s Ferry Building.

“That was my thesis when I was in school,” McKerrow said of the Ferry Building. “We tried to bring a lot of the things that work there into play here. But Huntington Beach is different. You can’t just plant the Ferry Building here. We think we’ve created something that uniquely reflects the town that it’s in.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7979 or phodgins@ocregister.com

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