New owner plans $5 million renovation, return to its retail roots

[caption id="attachment_16952" align="alignleft" width="241" caption="Jim Rosenfield"][/caption]

LARKSPUR -- The new owner of Larkspur Landing Shopping Center, now called Marin Country Mart, is planning a $5 million renovation next year designed to restore the property's rural Marin look and mostly retail configuration.

Santa Monica-based J.S. Rosenfield & Co., which in January acquired the 173,000-square-foot center just north of the ferry terminal, wants to start construction in early 2010 and finish by fall, according to principal Jim Rosenfield. The goal is to have a dozen new tenants to fill about 50,000 square feet of available space.

"It was originally designed as a retail center, and we're returning it to that," said Mr. Rosenfield, 47.

Currently, the space-use mix is 60 percent retail and 40 percent office. Mr. Rosenfield wants to return it to 90 percent retail, with office space supportive of the retail located on the second floor, or on the first floor for retail-like uses such as banks.

"Retail space becoming offices is a sad statement of failure," Mr. Rosenfield said. His 22-year-old company controls a half-million square feet of retail spaces in five Southern California properties, namely the Brentwood Country Mart in Los Angeles, and he's advised major retail real estate investors on reviving troubled centers. "Larkspur Landing has become a de facto office park because rents have dropped so low."

The Larkspur Planning Commission on Nov. 24 unanimously approved the first phase of the renovation, which involves remaking the plaza in the middle of the five central buildings and replacing landscaping along the perimeter streets of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Larkspur Landing Circle to enhance views of the bay and Mt. Tamalpais.

[caption id="attachment_16953" align="alignright" width="150" caption="An artist rendering of the planned fire pit and picnic area to replace the current courtyard fountain. (click to enlarge)"][/caption]

The landscape plan, which includes a number of benches and raised garden beds, has been developed by Smith & Smith of San Francisco and Fairfax-based Roth LaMotte Landscape Architecture. It includes replacing mature trees and a hedge along Sir Francis Drake with grown olive trees – at a cost of about $1 million in trees alone – replacing the Italian-style courtyard fountain and hardscape with a children's play area and nearby fire pit.

Planning commissioners were initially skeptical about the mall makeover, particularly the proposal to install a fire pit, said outgoing Chairman Chris McCluney. Personally, he was inspired by Mr. Rosenfield’s vision for a greater Marin feel for the center and his track record.

“What I really liked is he is bringing some vitality to the table for Marin Country Mart,” Mr. McCluney said.

[caption id="attachment_16954" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="A play area also would replace part of the existing courtyard hardscape. (click to enlarge)"][/caption]

Baldauf Catton von Eckartsberg Architects of San Francisco, or BCV, is the project architect. Germany-based Richter Spielgerate, designer of the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in London, designed the play area. Aborica of Marshall will make picnic tables from reclaimed redwood.

“We’re trying to make the property appropriate for Marin,” Mr. Rosenfield said.

The idea is to create a unique setting for commuters and weekend visitors to wine country to gather as they walk through the property between the ferry and the planned nearby southern terminus of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit line to Cloverdale. Passenger trains are scheduled to start rolling in late 2014.

Land-use planning for the Larkspur Landing area is expected to factor significantly in the update to the city General Plan scheduled to begin next year.

J.S. Rosenfield plans to go back to the city in January with its vision for a lamp-lit walkway along the berm overlooking the terminal as well as allowances in city signage rules for  Norman Rockwell-esque storefronts.

Part of the company’s vision for a unique retail experience, honed from Mr. Rosenfield’s retail experience in upper management at Sears and Cushman & Wakefield, involves sometimes close oversight in how shops operate and look, such as restrictions on taped signs on windows and prior approval for many interior improvements.

City National Bank, which financed the $65 million purchase of the property and is a longtime financier for J.S. Rosenfield, is set to finance the renovation.

Mr. Rosenfield is in the process of moving his family to Ross and has established a branch office in the shopping center. Wilson Meany Sullivan of San Francisco is managing the property.

For more information, call 310-458-6682 or visit www.jsrosenfield.com.