Project noted for speed of construction, green aspects, new tenants

[caption id="attachment_16377" align="alignright" width="276" caption="The renovated interior of Northgate, showing the new clerestoried atrium (photos courtesy of Macerich)"][/caption]

SAN RAFAEL – Despite a challenging economy, the year-and-a-half transformation of the Northgate regional shopping center is set for completion this month, with a number of new and returning retailers planning to open their doors over the next several months.

The project is notable not only for the speed in which it moved from proposal to construction – months instead of years – but also for the commitment to doing the work according to green-building standards and the string of new tenants lined up this summer to fill some of the 40 new spaces created by reconfiguration of the mall.

"The retailers realized that this market has been underserved," said Ryan Williams, senior marketing manager for the mall.

Ten tenants stayed open during the year-and-a-half project, but 13 closed down during portions of the two-phase project as their spaces were reconfigured or relocated, according to Mr. Williams. The mall has leases or commitments from 22 new retailers since the beginning of this year, including the replacement of defunct anchor Mervyn's with Kohl's, which opened Sept. 30.

Forever 21 has committed to 28,000 square feet. Twenty other tenants that signed commitments to space in the center since June are Berry Twist, Fingers and Toes/Faces and Places, Great Steak and Potato Co., Hot Topic, Northgate Jewelers, Payless Shoesource, Radio Shack, Shogun Fresh Japanese Grill, Sole Desire, Stride Rite, T-Mobile, BJ’s Brewhouse, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, Tomatina, H&M, Buckle, Tilly’s and Children’s Place.

Phased openings will span into 2010. For example, BJ's welcomed diners late last month, H&M is set to open this month, and Forever 21 plans to swing its doors wide come spring.

The full reopening of Northgate comes at a good time for city government, which relies on sales-tax revenue for 40 percent of its budget, according to Mayor Al Boro.

"I'm pleased that in spite of the economy Macerich went forward and did what they said they were going to do," Mr. Boro said. "It's a great day for the community that this mall is getting done."

Sales taxes in the city slumped 27 percent in the third quarter of this year from the same period last year. That came from a drop in automobile sales plus the loss of revenue from stores closed during the Northgate renovation or to make way for new retailers.

The new tenant mix has the potential to bump the city's sales-tax base from Northgate to $2.6 million annually from $2 million a year before construction began.

The Macerich Co. of Santa Monica purchased the 45-year-old mall in 1985 and also owns the Village at Corte Madera mall in San Rafael. The company last renovated Northgate in 1987 and enclosed the mall at that point.

In updating the mall this time, Macerich employed its public-forum model used in other renovations nationwide to help shorten the preconstruction timeframe by submitting a project with public backing the first time, according to Mr. Williams.

Keeping the project within the same footprint as the existing center, while reducing square footage to 723,000 with the addition of an oak tree plaza in front of Kohl's, helped avoid the need for new environmental studies.

Macerich also agreed to contribute to the city's planned pedestrian promenade through the city by building the first half-mile in front of the center.

The company held about a dozen community meetings, including some sessions with groups of as many as 40 women at a time over dinner.

"With Northgate we found that they wanted family and junior price points," he said. Other interests were an outdoor feel to Marin's largest enclosed mall as well as having any construction done with attention to sustainable practices. Macerich has registered the center with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

This opening up of the enclosed center allowed for larger tenant spaces to accommodate the mix of tenants in demand. Inward- and outward-facing smaller spaces on the "front" east side of the center were replaced with larger stores and a new entrance. A clerestoried atrium and movable glass walls at the entrances help communicate an indoor-outdoor feel.

Also the food court was relocated next to the Century Theaters multiplex, and a number of restaurants were distributed throughout the center.

Macerich isn't saying how much the Northgate renovation is costing, but the company took out an $80 million, three-year construction loan on the project this summer.

For more information, call 415-479-5956 or visit www.shopatnorthgate.com.