Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Business Put On Hold at The Lakes in West Covina

News Feature Blog Assignment By K. Ablaza

Cold Stone Creamery is the only location open at The Lakes' 1.1 acre site built for exclusively for food retailers

WEST COVINA – Josue Macias, 20, and Melissa Sanchez, 16, sat among empty tables and chairs on Monday afternoon eating ice cream at The Lakes, a retail center located next to the 10 freeway off of Lakes Drive and Vincent Avenue. They visit this location to buy ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, the only remaining food business in the complex, two times a week and have both noticed the decline in people that visit the site in the past few years.

“It looks nice. It’s just empty, like a deserted old western town,” Macias said.

The West Covina residents still remember when other major food chains and restaurants, such as Macaroni Grill, Fatburger, Juice It Up! and Rubio’s, called The Lakes retail center their home a few years ago. The Edwards Cinema 18 movie theater the plaza encompasses is still there today since it opened in 1997. However, all other major food chains have all packed up and left for other pastures since first opening in the early 2000s.

Some businesses, such as Best Buy once located just outside of the main plaza, have moved across the street into the West Covina mall where there is more visibility from the freeway. Others, such as the city’s only Barnes and Noble location, closed in late 2010 for good.

West Covina Community Development Commission Assistant Director Mike Lee said the site’s previous owner, Hillcrest Lakes Associates, L.P, lost the property to Banc of America Commercial Mortage Inc. almost two years ago. Since then, the bank has hired CB Richard Ellis real estate agents to re-tenant the property.

Christopher Chung, Director of the West Covina Community Development Commission,
said, based off of market feedback, one problem why the retail spaces are not selling could be because the bank may be asking too much for the property. Only counting the restaurants’ 1.1 acre site, Chung said the 23,712 square-foot property, has a total value estimated at $8.4 million.

“They don’t want a huge loss, but they are taking losses monthly by holding on to it, versus cutting their losses and getting out of it,” Chung said.

Chung said it could be perspective of the potential tenants, and what their offering could be low in the market already. Lee also said tenants who have the option of occupying The Lakes also prefer to move to West Covina’s bigger retail locations, such as the mall or Eastland Shopping Center, due to their better location, traffic and freeway visibility.

Redevelopment agencies such as CDC have assisted in improving other retail locations in West Covina in the past, but since February the commission has not been receiving enough funds to assist businesses through the redevelopment process, Lee said.

“We’ve been working with the various property owners for at least 7 or 8 years trying to get the place re-tenanted,” Lee said about The Lakes.  

Lee also mentioned that with the state passing AB 26 X and AB 27 in 2011, future projects and redevelopments are going to be very difficult to pursue now that they don’t have enough funding and staff.

Lee said the city was able to rebuild the West Covina mall, Eastland Shopping Center and West Covina Sportsplex with redevelopment money in the past few years. However, Lee said businesses in West Covina, including the ones that are finished being redeveloped, could be affected eventually due to commission’s budget cuts.

“We won’t have the ability to do those types of projects anymore,” Lee said.

Across the street from The Lakes is a strip retail space located on Glendora Avenue. Dully painted lampposts and old, dusty storefronts make the shops in this plaza look like they need a facelift to bring them into modern times. However, though the stores themselves were built long before The Lakes, the businesses there are still thriving.   

Lee said they have been able to survive because rent is much cheaper.

“It’s obvious that business owners are making enough money to stay open, versus what’s happening at the Lakes, but a lot of them are small mom and pop businesses which can really only afford cheaper rent,” Lee said.  

As far as the future of The Lakes, Chung said tenants are eventually going to move in, but the bank is going to have to give some concessions in order for that to happen.

“They are playing craps thinking they are going to win in the very end,” he said. 

One of the entrances to The Lakes center, which has "For Lease" signs on almost all of its retail spaces

Commercial spaces at The Lakes all available for lease

Signs of restaurants that were once operating at The Lakes but are now closed

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