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July 21, 2024
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Shop Talk Begins for Mainstreet Mall

Westfield representatives present conceptual plans for outdoor
shopping center
Gilroy – California’s leading mall developer plans to convert 119 acres of east Gilroy farmland into an outdoor shopping paradise.

Representatives of Westfield Corporation unveiled conceptual plans Monday for a shopping center with a pair of traditional main streets, each capped at the north and south by national retailers. Smaller stores, a movie theater, restaurants and a park will round out the “lifestyle center” Westfield hopes to build just east of the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

“This is an introduction to our concept and Westfield’s way of thinking,” spokesperson Katy Dickey said a few days after presenting plans to city council members. “We believe this is the first of what will be many discussions in the future. Certainly there will be challenges ahead for all the stakeholders, but we see this as a great opportunity for Westfield and the city.”

The 1.5-million-square-foot shopping center would dwarf the combined area of the two big-box shopping centers on Pacheco Pass, and would boost the city’s allure as a regional shopping Mecca. The Pacheco Pass centers poured more than $3 million into city coffers last year, and the prospect of another major cash infusion could prove tantalizing for city leaders anxious to find millions of dollars to fix cracked sidewalks, clogged storm drains and rundown alleys.

Westfield may need more than revenues, however, to eclipse worries about traffic snarls and the city’s historic downtown, just now recovering from two decades of decline.

“Any time you have another place people can go, it will compete,” Mayor Al Pinheiro said. “It will be up to the people in downtown to provide a place where people want to go … I’m not in the business of protecting individual (merchants), but we’ll do what we can to make sure downtown does well.”

In addition to easing concerns about downtown and traffic, Pinheiro said the mall developer must tackle a major planning effort for all 660 acres between the Gilroy Premium Outlets and Llagas Creek. The area known as the “660” – which includes the land slated for the mall – inspired one of Gilroy’s fiercest land use battles of the past decade.

City leaders defied local environmentalists and regional land use officials in 2002 by folding the land into Gilroy’s 20-year growth boundary. The decision opened the door for development, but on the condition that no development could proceed without a comprehensive plan for all 660 acres. The land was also reserved for technology firms and other high-paying employers, meaning council members will have to rezone the property for commercial use.

Westfield has agreed to finance a full-time city planner to steer the project through a complex regulatory process at the hands of city leaders and regional land use officials.

The Local Agency Formation Commission has looked askance at Gilroy’s growth efforts ever since “the 660” fight. The decision to target the land for development ran foul of the agency’s efforts to promote urban edges around the cities of Santa Clara County. Before Westfield can turn a single patch of dirt, Gilroy officials must convince LAFCO to let them encroach on more farmland. Though inside the city’s growth boundary, the land remains outside city borders and can only be incorporated with the blessings of LAFCO.

Winning support for the mall proposal could prove easier now that one of Gilroy’s sharpest critics on the commission has been replaced by a self-described property rights advocate – San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant. He joins a five-member commission chaired by Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, the representative for South County.

“I haven’t seen the plan, but it’s something good for Gilroy,” Gage said. “It will generate sales tax revenue and … it’s the right place for it. They’re going to put in some roads and protect some farmland, and you can’t ask for much more than that.”

Even if LAFCO looks favorably on the project, Westfield will face local environmentalists who opposed targeting the 660 for development. Local environmentalists such as former city councilwoman Connie Rogers are worried about the effects of increased traffic and vast new areas of floodplain being paved over. Though Westfield says it has no plans to incorporate housing into the project, she worries the company may try to make an end-run around a city ban on housing east of U.S. Highway 101.

“I question whether the expense is worth it,” Rogers said. “Fighting Mother Nature is really expensive, and it’s hard for me to justify the need for this project.”

On Feb. 26, city staff members will present an overview of the planning process and timeline involved in creating the mall.

Of the 120 malls Westfield operates throughout the world, nearly a quarter are located in California, making the company the biggest mall operator in the state, Dickey said. The company hopes to start construction on its Gilroy facility by 2010.

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