By Elaine Ingalls, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Capitola and Santa Cruz County residents were not hesitant to give their input about the future of the mall in a community meeting Tuesday night in the Sears building.
Mall owner Merlone Geier Partners, who purchased the mall from Macerich in 2016 and owns 67% of the property, shared its plans for the “Capitola Town Square” at the meeting. The square is expected to be a mixed-use outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment center with a residential component. Nearly 200 people attended the forum, which followed a presentation to the Capitola city council May 9 and a community survey conducted last year.
Attendees asked questions about traffic issues, entertainment options, senior and single-residence housing, moving the Santa Cruz METRO station and more.
“This is a concept moving forward,” said Stephen Logan, vice president of development. Merlone Geier staff reminded attendees that the plans and name of the site are subject to change.
David Geiser, Merlone Geier’s managing director of design and construction, spoke about building and landscape plans. Responding to a comment on “how ugly the mall is,” Geiser added that Architects Orange will design the mall space. Kimley-Horn planning and design engineering consultants are also working on the project.
Geiser said 630 residential units are planned for the town square, primarily one and two bedroom studios for rent. Each unit will be allotted 1.75 spaces, for a total of approximately 1,100 spaces. Residential units will be built in two phases: phase one will put residential units on top of retail stores and phase two will build units on the ground level.
Residential and retail units at the front of the square and on the main street are expected to reach about 60-65 feet, which Merlone Geier would have to discuss with the city because the current zoning allows for a height of about 40 feet, or 50 feet with exceptions for developments that have community benefits. This zoning exception has been accounted for in Capitola’s Municipal Code, which states that a rezone or specific plan may be required for mall redevelopment.
If there is more space dedicated to senior living, there will be less traffic, Geiser said. Merlone Geier’s vice president of design and construction Barron Caronite said the plan reduces retail square footage to allow for more residential units. With less retail, less traffic will occur during peak travel times at night. But with more residential, there may be an increase in traffic during peak travel times in the morning.
Geiser added that the METRO station at the front of the mall will be moved to the space between the back of Kohl’s and the front of Macy’s.
Peg Popken, a David Lyng Real Estate agent on 41st Avenue, said elements of Capitola history in the mall redevelopment will be included, such as the Begonia Festival. Reflecting on how artists took over the Capitola Village years ago, she said the town square should focus on the creatives of the community.
“It’s where surfers meet gardeners meet writers,” she said. “It’s a different attitude, it comes from the inside rather than the label. We’re doers, not sitters,” adding that art workshops would be a good community event in the new mall space.
“(Merlone Geier) needs to engage with Capitola and its residents and the community at large,” according to Capitola Mayor Jacques Bertrand. He said the mall owners need to create new traditions and things to remember Capitola, such as the Capitola/Soquel Chamber of Commerce’s Art & Wine Festival and the Capitola Rod and Custom Classic Car Show.
With these building plans in mind, Merlone Geier estimates that the town square will be completed in about five years. Logan said the mall will continue to operate, but some stores will be moved or closed temporarily. He said it comes down to the tenants’ leases: businesses’ will have to stay in their place based on the length of their lease.
The community can submit public comments and questions to Merlone Geier’s Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.