Westfield undeterred by local economy


UTC plans on track for 2009 construction

Whether San Diego’s economy is good or bad won’t affect plans for the redevelopment of University Town Center, the developer said following City Council approval last week.

“We’re hoping to start construction in 2009,” said Jonathan Bradhurst, senior vice president, U.S. development for The Westfield Group, a multinational company specializing in retail center development and owner of the UTC mall. “Westfield, as a company, has $7 billion in funding available in their development pipeline and this (UTC mall) is one of the projects that has been anticipated.”

The company plans to add approximately 750,000 square feet of retail space for new and remodeled anchor stores, a state-of-the-art cinema and more than 150 new specialty shops and boutiques.

Nordy’s, Macy’s up first

Bradhurst said the first phase of the mall’s retrofit, to involve the building of a new Nordstrom and a new Macy’s and about half of all the other new shops, will open in 2011.

“In the second phase,” said Bradhurst, “we’re going to tear down the old Nordstrom and Macy’s and build the rest of the project out, including the 14-screen theater and the residential component (250 to 300 condominiums). That should be done by 2013.”

Oriented to transit

The project also includes new public outdoor plazas, upgraded parking and a new regional transit center with a future link to the trolley. As proposed, Westfield’s vision could represent an investment in excess of $900 million.

Sixth District Councilwoman Donna Frye was the sole dissenter in a 7-1 July 26 City Council vote on the project.

Frye said she had too many concerns to sanction the mall redevelopment project as proposed.

“I’m concerned about putting more density into that area (UC),” she said. “I’m also not comfortable with the (environmental) mitigation.”

Westfield officials say the “new UTC” will be a national model for use of energy-sustainable practices, designs and materials. Use of the latest water technology combined with reclaimed water for landscape irrigation will have a net zero impact on mall water consumption, they add.

City Attorney Michael Aguirre challenged them during the July 26 meeting, arguing that such a large-scale project needs to be scrutinized much more closely to guarantee it will be water-wise.

He also noted that state law now requires cities like San Diego to guarantee that large-scale projects, like Westfield’s, when completed will have a sustainable 20-year water supply.

“We’re looking at a water emergency shortage,” said Aguirre. “All I’m saying is the project has to have a better source of water supply identified, in light of the water emergency we’re facing.”

Bradhurst replied: “I suspect he (Aguirre) didn’t understand our water plans and water supply system.

George Lattimer, a real estate developer and investor and former chairman of University City Planning Group, spoke out against UTC mall’s redevelopment as proposed at the hearing.