Mall upgrades move forward with city’s OK

By JONATHAN WHITAKER
March 7, 2019

The Merced City Council on Monday night voted to move forward with the long-awaited renovation project to turn the Merced Mall into a shopping, dining and entertainment center that will meet modern 21st century expectations.

Leaders unanimously approved an environmental review study and a site utilization plan for the 50-year-old retail landmark along Olive Avenue.

Mall planners expect to renovate buildings, expand retail space, update the exteriors and facade so that more storefronts face parking areas, create attractive outdoor open areas, and add an exciting state-of-the-art theater complex.

Everything will have an emphasis on creating social gathering sites, inside and out, and attracting younger visitors to an experience unlike anything they can find online through the Internet.

Construction could begin this year, according to Bill Kenney, a representative of the mall’s owner, Codding Enterprises. He said the project is expected to be completed by 2021.

“With your approval of our project this evening,” Kenney said, “we can commence architectural and engineering design, and we can pursue with vigor those exciting new retail, restaurant and entertainment tenants that this community so badly desires.”

Kenney said they are still trying to figure out if the new theater complex will become part of the Mall’s centerpiece attraction — by opening up a two-story complex between JC Penney’s and Kohl's — or if it will remain where the existing United Artists Regency 7 stands today. He said Mall tenants will have a say in the decision.

Kenney also mentioned that the Mall is already in negotiations to bring in new retail shops, including the possibility of major anchor department stores; however, those talks are still ongoing.

The Mall has lost a few stores and eateries in recent years, including the Sweet River Grill and Bar and the Sears department store; not to mention the Payless Shoes is on its way out after a nationwide closure.

Recent announcements about several nationwide chains closing stores have been dubbed “Retail Armageddon” in the mainstream media. They include JC Penney’s stores — though Central Valley outlets were not listed among the most recent announcements.

The vacant Sears store at the Merced Mall has caused some concern because it is owned by a entity separate from Codding Enterprises. Frank Quintero, the city’s economic development director, said the site sits on about 9 acres, with 94,000 square feet of retail space. He said there are plans to renovate the facility from the inside out, with a focus on tenants, and then the outside of the building will follow.

The city’s Planning Commission has agreed with the latest moves, and no one from the public has been opposed to the project at their meetings.

On Monday night, Councilman Kevin Blake simply said, “It’s a great project.”

Mayor Mike Murphy thanked Codding Enterprises for their continued investment in Merced.

“The mall’s going to be just a wonderful amenity for our community, and 2021 is going to be here before we know it,” he said.


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