Plans for redeveloping a struggling mall in downtown San Bernardino moved a step closer this week as Miami-based LNR Property Corporation submitted draft environmental documents for replacing the 35-year-old, Victor Gruen-designed mall with a mixture of residential and commercial uses.
Tentatively called “Court Street West,” plans are for up to 750 residential units, mostly condos, townhomes and lofts, plus approximately 120,000 square feet of commercial space set within an urban, park-like setting. Plans also call for reconnecting F and G streets back through the mall property.
However, still not included in the redevelopment are the former JCPenney and empty Harris Co. department store buildings, both of which were not part of LNR’s purchase of the mall in Feb. 2006. Their status remains up in the air (though a buyer for the historic 1927 Harris’ building is likely at some point).
Planned in the late 1960s as a redevelopment project between the city and federal government, Carousel Mall opened as Central City Mall in 1972. Built adjacent to the flagship department store of San Bernardino-based Harris Co., the two-level mall helped keep downtown alive following the 1966 opening of nearby Inland Center Mall. Future plans for the immediate area included commercial high-rises and a “central city park” (just across E Street adjacent to City Hall). The plan even envisioned an aerial tram of sorts shuttling patrons among the two competing malls, which were separated by a mere two miles.
Over the next 20 years, as San Bernardino struggled with growing unemployment, poverty and crime, Central City Mall began a steady downward slide. A 1991 renovation, which added a carousel and a new name, temporarily boosted retail traffic. However, the 1996 opening of the gigantic Ontario Mills Mall 10 miles to the west began to put strains on the now Carousel Mall.
In 2000, two years following the purchase — and eventual merger — of the Harris’ chain into Fresno-based Gottschalks, the closing of the flagship Harris’ store signaled the beginning of the end for the mall. Within three years, both Montgomery Ward (2002) and JCPenney (2003) would follow suit and close up shop in San Bernardino.
Today the Carousel Mall is a virtual ghost town of sorts. Although the city did manage to fill some of the empty tenant space with a few government agencies and even secured a Starwood Hotels & Resorts reservation center (with 400-plus jobs), the mall’s remaining retailers continue to struggle.
Without a doubt, the large mall property in the heart of downtown offers the city a unique opportunity for a large-scale, mixed-use development. We look forward to watching this redevelopment, though we hope the historic Harris Co. building is indeed incorporated into any plans and does not give way to the bulldozer. Hopefully, both LNR and San Bernardino will be able to take advantage of the situation and help bring vibrancy back to a once-thriving downtown.
Photo Gallery: Carousel Mall
- Riverside Press-Enterprise – San Bernardino mall report omits 2 stores
- San Bernardino Sun – City dreaming big (Sept. 24, 2006)
- LabelScar.com – Carousel Mall
- RaincrossSquare.com – San Bernardino’s Carousel Mall may be redeveloped