Developers plan to revamp Buena Park shopping center by adding residents to retail

A faded imprint of a Sears branded sign is the only visible reminder of the retail store that once anchored the Buena Park mall for decades, but is now an abandoned appendix. Sears closed in early 2020, just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, as a harbinger of difficulties ahead.

After waves of infections and color-coded capacity limits, the halls of the mall also became sanctified; storefronts that once sold perfumes, shoes and sportswear are now obscured with their fences downed.

In the age of online shopping, it’s easy to think of the old Sears building and even the Buena Park Mall as vestiges of retail.

But Merlone Geier Partners hopes to transform the withered west end of the mall into the Village, a vibrant community of residents, those who will live, shop and dine in the heart of downtown Buena Park.

And the change will begin with the demolition of the old Sears building.

“We see the introduction of housing here as a catalyst for new business activity in the region,” said Will Geier, vice president of Merlone Geier Partners. “Residents and surrounding businesses will benefit from the proximity to each other. “

On November 4, a community presentation set out the vision for the village. Residents sat intently in the basement of the Buena Park Library as developer representatives presented plans to build 1,300 units of apartments and townhouses that will interlock with the existing shopping center, the Krikorian Metroplex and restaurants.

The developers hope to demolish the old Sears at the Buena Park shopping center and replace it with the Village project.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

Merlone Geier Partners first acquired the Sears building in 2019 and leased it to the retail giant for two years until it ceased operations. The adjacent parking lot has served as a home for a weekly farmer’s market and the occasional traveling circus. But the developer sees a lot more potential for the property.

“We have always viewed this as a great housing site,” Geier said. “We looked at other potential uses before continuing with the plan we came up with, but housing has always been at the top of our list here. “

By reinventing the traditional shopping center, the Village shares a similar redevelopment spirit with Simon Property Group in Brea. Two years ago, the owners of Brea Shopping Center submitted a mixed-use project with the city that included the demolition of a dormant Sears building in favor of new housing, restaurants and retail.

However, the village eclipses such plans in terms of residential size and retail necessity.

“The mall has had a very turbulent history for decades,” said Susan Sonne, city councilor for Buena Park whose District 3 encompasses the mall. “The village could be a good thing for the city, if we do it right. ”

Sonne campaigned on a platform that included the reimagining of the Buena Park mall and is committed to facilitating an open process that addresses residents’ concerns along the way.

A row of business owners with Grange Hall 39, a new dining hall in a pedestrian alley known as the Krikorian Courtyard, felt particularly invested as they listened to the community’s presentation on the village.

Before the pandemic, the Buena Park Mall hoped that a food court would attract people, especially moviegoers, to the area. The concept of bringing together fast and casual food stalls under one roof has flourished elsewhere – from Rodeo 39 in Stanton to the Packing House in Anaheim.

Bill McMullan is the owner of Egg Slice, a business located in Grange Hall 39 of the Buena Park shopping center.

Bill McMullan is the owner of Egg Slice, a business located in Grange Hall 39 of the Buena Park shopping center.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

The second food stand to open at Grange Hall 39 was Bill McMullan’s Egg Slice, which offers upscale breakfast sandwiches at a fast-serving pace.

McMullan fondly recalls his trips to the Buena Park Mall during his education in West Anaheim in the 1960s. “When we were young the only mall we knew was the Buena Park Mall,” he said. he declares. “When you wanted desert boots in the ’60s, you came to John Hardy’s at the mall.”

After spending years as a business owner in Australia, Japan and Europe, he went on to own a breakfast sandwich shop abroad before bringing the concept to Costa Mesa as a pop-up.

Eric Choi, mall owner and rental manager, visited Egg Slice one morning and offered McMullan the opportunity to tour the future Grange Hall 39 site. McMullan gladly agreed and met at the mall in her youth.

The egg bacon and cheese sandwich on a buttery chili jam bun from Egg Slice.

The egg bacon and cheese sandwich on a buttery chili jam bun from Egg Slice.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

“Coming back and seeing his transformation has been quite interesting for me,” he said. “Of course, as a supplier to Grange Hall 39, we are delighted with the possibility of increasing traffic. Personally, I like the idea of ​​a revival of old medieval villages with housing, food, clothing, entertainment, exercise and work, all within walking distance of each other.

In the meantime, McMullan is eager to feed the hungry construction crews.

With the cinema and shopping center having suffered due to the pandemic, Grange Hall 39 remains a hidden gem, tucked away at the back of the shopping center, away from street views.

Brandon Takanabe is the owner of Burger Monster, a business located in Grange Hall 39 of the Buena Park shopping center.

Brandon Takanabe is the owner of Burger Monster, a business located in Grange Hall 39 of the Buena Park shopping center.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

Burger Monster, another of its suppliers, opened earlier this year. Gourmet “American Werewolf”, “Dracula” and “Lycan” burgers and specialty fries complete its appallingly delicious menu. Brandon Takanabe started out as a cook before buying Burger Monster during his food truck era; he welcomed the opportunity to be part of Grange Hall 39, but construction delays have meant its opening came amid the pandemic.

“Business has not been good,” he said. “We’re trying to make things more attractive to get people to stay and hang out instead of just grabbing food and going. “

The village hopes to address these issues by creating a mixed-use experience at Buena Park Shopping Center, where Grange Hall 39’s location is an asset, not a liability for lost customers.

“It’s right at the connection of our site and the existing pedestrian plaza,” Geier said. “We see this area as an important hub where residential and commercial come together. “

Like his neighbors at Grange Hall, Takanabe is delighted with the arrival of the Village, especially as the presenters reassured traders that the project would be residential only. But that can’t happen soon enough as Takanabe has signed a 3 year lease and is just hoping to make it through the end of this year somehow.

Burger Monster's Mighty Melt Burger.

Monster’s Mighty Melt Burger with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, bacon, cheddar cheese, beer-battered onion rings and a cheddar cheese brioche bun.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

Plans for the village were officially submitted with Buena Park this week, the first stop on a long journey. If all goes well, construction could start as early as 2023 and its first residents are expected to move in by 2025.

In addition to the residential units, there will also be a one-hectare park with its playground and rest areas open to all.

Geier envisions a place where a future resident can walk their dog in the park, buy a breakfast sandwich at Egg Slice, shop at the mall, and watch a movie later that night after dining at Grange Hall 39.

“This will be a unique offering at Buena Park,” he promised, “and we’re excited to start.”

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