GALLERIA PREVIEW: Mall revamp opens Thursday

Shopaholics beware: First crop of stores, eateries slated to open Thursday
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Westfield on Thursday will unwrap the first phase of a massive, $240 million expansion project at the Galleria mall in Roseville, bringing 48 new stores and eateries – many new to the region – to the already outsized retail juggernaut. The litany of arrivals includes some highly anticipated heavy hitters, including a Louis Vuitton boutique and the Swedish clothing chain H&M, both of which do not currently have stores in the area. (Officials also promise some opening-day surprises.) But the enlargement, approved in 2006 at the height of the real estate boom, also comes at a shaky economic time, with a recession all but certain and consumers feeling the sting of layoffs and the Wall Street financial meltdown. A whopper of a makeover The expansion project adds about 450,000 square feet to the mall, currently at 1.1 million square feet. That doesn’t include a five-story parking garage, also slated to open Thursday. “After this, we’re definitely the largest super-regional shopping center in the area, and one of the largest in Westfield,” Galleria General Manager Gavin Farnam said last week. Filling up the leasable space this week are stores like Juicy Couture, Hot Topic and BCBG Max Azria. Beginning early next year, the mall will start to roll out roughly another 50 stores as they open as part of Phase 2. “The neat thing is you’ll be able to walk through the whole center, and even if the tenants are not there they’ll have the opening-soon signs there,” Farnam said. New layout to boost efficiency The expanded Galleria will roll out a new Westfield approach for grouping stores and amenities by target shopper, called “districting.” “We know the consumer has a small window today, and there are times they don’t have a lot of time,” said Galleria spokeswoman Stephanie Ringey. The districts cluster stores by interest – such as fashion-forward, juniors or gifts – and pair them with complementary amenities, so shoppers can get in and out quickly if they choose, she said. The efficiency focus is also evident in the new garage, which will bring to 7,000 the number parking spaces, up from an original 5,000. So-called “family parking,” located on the second level, will include reserved spaces for those with young children. Located near a bridge connecting to the mall, it’s designed to cut down on the hassle of hauling around kids and baby gear. (The feature will be on the honor system, Ringey said.) Questions over economy, timing The expansion project represents the largest current investment into an existing property by Westfield, a sign of just how successful the mall has been since opening in 2000. Through 2005, the latest year for which figures were available, the mall contributed more than $17.5 million in sales tax revenue to the city of Roseville, according to city documents. That’s more than initial estimates projected. But with consumer confidence lower than General Motors’ latest earnings report, some have questioned whether the region can support so many new stores, many of them catering to upscale shoppers – especially with the recent arrival of the high-profile Fountains lifestyle center across the street. Roseville hasn’t been immune from the financial crunch, as reports on some dealers’ troubles at the Roseville Automall have shown in recent months. Indeed, city officials have already revised projections of future sales tax revenue from the expansion downward, from an initial $1.34 million annually, said Assistant City Manager Julia Burrows. “It’s difficult to tell now by how much” that projection will change, Burrows said. Galleria officials, though, say they’re confident the revamped mall will continue to draw shoppers – and their pocketbooks. “I think it’s coming at the perfect time,” Farnam said. “If you’re going to bring people out, you need something new and creative. We’re creating a shopping experience for customers and positioning for the future.” Burrows agreed, saying the massing of high-end retail outlets at the Galleria – as well as the nearby Fountains – creates a unique draw that will attract shoppers from far beyond Roseville. “We will still have retailers at the mall where the closest are at Walnut Creek or San Francisco,” she said. On Friday, Folsom residents Maria and Doug Randall sat on the Galleria’s open-air “promenade” section. The pair often travels to the mall, and the new stores will likely keep them coming even as retail options multiply nearer their home. “It’s going to put downtown to shame,” said Doug Randall, referring to Westfield’s Downtown Plaza in Sacramento. “Everything will be in one place,” his wife added. Nearby, shoppers Julie Rossini and Kyle Cornwall struggled to talk over the din of tractors and jackhammers – the sound of workers scrambling to complete work before this week’s opening. Were they excited to check out the new amenities? “Maybe – if I had an unlimited income,” Julie said.