Westminster Mall is a staple of the city. Located off of Bolsa and connected to the I-405, the commercial center is well known in Orange County for its size and convenient location. However, the mall is one of many that must face the reality brought by a revolution in the way that consumers purchase goods and services.
Once a place that brought much foot traffic, the mall has had struggles in recent years. On top of the fact that many consumers have switched to online shopping, the mall has lost business, including one of its anchor stores, Sears, in 2018. With this reality in mind, observing the way other commercial centers have battled this change, and remembering the financial bind Westminster finds itself in, the city must look forward.
One potential way this could be accomplished is the redevelopment of a promising, but ultimately outdated mall, into a center that shares a focus on both commercial and residential developments—embracing a multi-use application in the footsteps of previous, successful transformations. The city, in a few ways, has already started down this path.
Project W and The Redevelopment Plan
The City of Westminster has put together a development plan called Project W. This plan, created in 2019, aims to develop and redevelop the city, with sub-projects mainly focused on infrastructure. This includes improvements to bikeways, parks, and affordable housing, as well as the Westminster Mall Redevelopment plan.
The city already has ideas to redevelop the mall into a “mixed use site.” The plan, being worked on both by the city as well as property owners of the mall, is still in development with specifics not yet available to the public. So what could this plan look like?
What Could a Redeveloped Westminster Mall Look Like?
In an interview on Business View Magazine with Chet Simmons, the Assistant Manager of Westminster, he expresses the desire to use the Westminster Mall Redevelopment plan as a way to cultivate an original location that’s not admired just for one restaurant or store, but rather a unique area that someone visits to spend the day with friends or family.
Mixed use sites embody this image, creating an area that encapsulates retail, office space, residential and entertainment attractions in one area. Looking across the world, we can see many cities adopting mixed use development, with a bigger emphasis on multifamily or dense housing. Thankfully, we only need to look south to Bella Terra to see a successful example.
Looking to the South
Bella Terra, a commercial plaza off of Edinger and Beach Blvd, was once the Huntington Center. Closing down in the early 2000’s to be redeveloped and reopening in 2006, Bella Terra transformed from a once enclosed mall, similar to Westminster, into what it is today: a multi use zone with retail, entertainment, and in recent years, residential appeals, with the first apartments approved in 2010. While concerns have been raised about traffic and overpopulation, many residents of Huntington beach express admiration for the transformation the commercial center underwent.
A core aspect of the success that Bella Terra has found, alongside its desirable commercial locations, is its walkability, ease of access, and density provided by the nature of its land use. Many of Bella Terra’s shoppers find themselves within walking distance, especially if they happen to live in the apartments built off of Edinger. This, of course, encourages consumption and activity, but also is a way to combat some of the traffic concerns brought up, with a considerable amount of people not needing a car to get to the plaza.
When considering the redevelopment of Westminster Mall, we should be mindful of this comparison and perhaps attempt to mirror some of the successful aspects of Bella Terra’s development. Developing dense housing near the commercial zone could encourage not only the attention that it needs, but also play a role in tackling one of Project W’s other goals: affordable housing.
Keeping Commercial in Mind
While a bigger focus on commercial-residential integration to increase revenue and revitalize the space is important, keeping in mind the commercial element and its impact on the city’s budget should not be forgotten.
The Westminster Mall, despite its decline, is still a vital contributor to Westminster, a city that relies on much of its revenue from sales taxes. The largest portion of Westminster’s budget comes from their General Fund, most of which is made up from sales and use taxes, as seen in the 2022 adopted budget. Therefore, anything that replaces or is amended to Westminster Mall, must be able to meet or even exceed what it was able to provide to the city through taxation.
The city is right in doing community outreach to figure out what residents want. Capitalizing on the successful portions of the mall and using community feedback in working with property owners in their plans, could help revitalize the space by providing more areas of interest.
Investment in the City and the Future
Westminster still faces many fiscal challenges, potentially bankruptcy in the coming years. Despite Measure SS, a new sales tax that was voted on in 2016, saving the city from having to cut into reserves in recent years.
Unfortunately, this tax expires at the end of this year. The City Council has decided not to put a referendum on an extension of the tax in front of the voters. This, alongside the other problems the city faces, including the hole left by the dissolution of the statewide redevelopment program in 2011, means that Westminster must tackle their budgetary issues in a multifaceted way.
The redevelopment of the mall and Project W, in general, won’t fix the fiscal issues the city faces by themselves. However, they are still an integral step in the way Westminster must evolve in order to keep up with changing times. At its core, Westminster needs more tax revenue. While reforms such as Measure SS are good, the city needs more development to be fiscally sustainable. Projects such as the Westminster Mall Redevelopment play an invaluable role in the city’s battle.
Griffin Shufeldt resides in Huntington Beach and attends Golden West College where he studies Economics and Political Science. He’s involved in student government as the Vice President of Financial Affairs and works as a peer tutor at his college. He spends most of his down time reading, exploring new areas in OC, and cooking.
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