SAN RAFAEL – A major renovation of Marin County's largest shopping center meant that city government and the property owner had to forgo some proceeds from sales in the mall during the 18-month project and the worst economy in seven decades. But an influx of new tenants just before the Nov. 12 reopening suggests it was worth it.
At a time when few shopping mall projects are proceeding nationwide and some stalled, The Macerich Co. of Santa Monica pressed ahead with modernization and reconfiguration of the four-decade-old mall because the company and retailers saw potential, according to Kim Choukalas, vice president of leasing.
"Marin County is really a mature retail market," she said. "It is tested and somewhat under-retailed."
Macerich has ownership interests in 72 regional malls nationwide, including the Village at Corte Madera, totaling about 76 million square feet of space. It purchased Northgate mall in 1985. The company last renovated it in 1987, enclosing the mall at that point.
A key part of the project, based on community input, was a high level of adherence to green-building standards. Macerich has registered the mall for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Core and Shell project rating system that's part of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.
Key features include ample fresh air, daylight and a new public square around a newly transplanted oak tree. Movable glass walls at entrances, including a new front entry, as well as a new clerestory allow for 55 percent of the mall's daytime lighting needs to come from the sun.
San Rafael Mayor Al Boro said he is glad the project has been completed according to community interests.
"San Rafael asked for a gathering place and new and better options for shopping and eating out, and that is exactly what we are getting at the new Northgate," he said. "Northgate has been and will continue to be a strong community partner for San Rafael, from providing space for nonprofit meetings to contributing significantly to the tax revenue of the city."
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 Mr. 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.
Northgate has had its share of retailer challenges during this economic downturn, most pointedly in the closure of anchor tenant Mervyn's early this year. However, the mall now has all four anchor locations filled since Kohl's purchased Mervyn's leasehold along with certain others, including malls in Napa and Ukiah in the North Bay but not Petaluma, Santa Rosa or Fairfield.