With shopping behaviors in flux and the fate of the American mall uncertain, Westfield UTC is fast preparing to unveil its take on the offline shopping experience of the future.
Come October, the 33-year-old La Jolla-adjacent destination will debut its long-awaited second phase of development.
In November 2012, the mall showed off its first transformation, a $180-million makeover complete with ArcLight Cinemas and a revamped food court. This second round, however, is even bigger in scope, encompassing a $600-million bet on the brick-and-mortar property as an upscale, amenity-rich escape from the quotidian.
Tuesday, the center released new renderings of the space, and announced another batch of committed tenants, which include luxury furniture-maker Arhaus, comfy-clothes line Marine Layer and fine-dining establishment Larsen's Steakhouse. Other just-revealed additions are crystal jewelry-maker Swarovski, footwear chain ECCO and MAC Cosmetics.
Still an active construction site, Westfield UTC should look and feel noticeably different to guests who enter from the west and north sides when the dust settles. By Oct.12, the grand opening date of a new
store, most of the construction will have cleared to feature 250,000 square feet of additional retail and restaurant space. Most of the incoming restaurants will be of the sit-down-and-drink variety, and include outdoor space.
In addition, multiple gardens, an art-walk and outdoor plazas, including one with a Pop Jet water fountain for kids, are meant to be focal points for visitors. Plus, the new Westfield UTC will come with 18,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, as well as a palm-tree lined valet drop-off area.
Perhaps the most noticeable change, however, will be the addition of more than 2,000 parking spaces (5,500 total) and the center's mostly single-level retail strategy. Whereas a mall-goer previously had to navigate between two or three floors to visit retailers on the north end, now they'll find a flattened shopping vibe.
There are still different tiers, but the overhauled section will consist of underground parking on the first tier and a row of retail stores located just above the parking garage, now contiguous with the rest of the mall's outdoor space.
Though retail will certainly remain a pivotal part of the equation, Westfield UTC appears to be flipping the brick-and-mortar model to favor dining, and even lounging or playing, over shopping. And, if successful, the costly renovation will make locals and tourists alike rethink where to head to dinner on a Friday night or where to take the kids on the weekend.
And Westfield's timing couldn't be better.
A recent report from Credit Suisse projects that 20 percent to 25 percent of U.S. malls will
But an alternative view is that the American mall can survive if it replaces the beleaguered concept of the every-person's anchor store - e.g. Sears, Macy's and J.C. Penney - with a new type of draw.
Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and Managing Partner at RSR Research, is of the opinion that the overall experience - meaning the totality of the mall's ambiance and activities - will be the new anchor attraction.
"The goal is to create an experience that makes it worth your while to go to the mall," she said. "There is no doubt that millennials are interested in experience. They prefer experience over things."
Still, anchor stores aren't entirely extinct at the coming-soon Westfield UTC. While Sears is on its way out with no announced replacement, Nordstrom is set to debut a new Westfield UTC location, a two-story venue that spans 145,000 square feet, which is 15,000 square feet greater than the current spot.
The new store will trade carpet-lined sections for a single tile-lined floor and artificial light for much more of the natural variety. Nordstrom will also introduce a contemporary restaurant named Bazille with a full bar and patio overlooking the mall. Eventually, the location will even incorporate curbside pickup for Nordstrom online shoppers.
The spruced-up venue should mesh nicely with the revitalized Westfield UTC, which still isn't quite complete.