A 460,000-square-foot retail center across the street from South Coast Plaza is being reimagined as a “new gateway into Santa Ana,” in an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment project that could add thousands of apartments, expansive commercial uses, a hotel and a large amount of community gathering space to the South Coast Metro area.
Irvine’s Related California is heading the 42-acre project, which kicked off the permitting process this month.
Early plans call for construction to begin in 2026 and continue in phases, with completion projected around 2036.
Related has agreed to take on a 99-year ground lease for the Metro Town Square shopping center, which has been owned by the Callens family for more than a century.
The site, once used as a lima bean and sugar beets farm, is now overseen by three arms of the family who will retain ownership of the land following the Related-overseen redevelopment.
The project, dubbed Related Bristol, proposes 3,750 apartment units built in mid-rise structures; 350,000 square feet of retail, dining and commercial uses; 200 senior housing units; and a 250-room premium hotel.
It’s among the larger mixed-use projects in the state to date for Related California, a unit of N.Y.-based real estate giant Related Companies.
It’s expected to be “the most consequential private investment in the history of Santa Ana,” Related Senior Vice President Steven Oh told the Business Journal.
Santa Ana Makeover
Combined with another redevelopment project being considered for the South Coast Plaza Village shopping center adjacent to the Related site, the projects have the potential to add north of 5,000 residences, plus retail and other amenities to the area between Sunflower Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard (see story, page 23).
The work would mark the largest development projects in decades for Santa Ana in the area around South Coast Plaza; a majority of the new residential construction in the immediate area has taken place on the south side of Sunflower Avenue, which is in Costa Mesa.
Both proposed projects—South Coast Village is overseen by affiliates of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons—are still in the early stages of entitlement. Related California held its first public hearing for Related Bristol on Sept. 8, with a few hundred people attending.
Metro Town Square has nearly 100 tenants, with all of the leases expiring in 2025 due to a master lease signed in 1971. Assuming the entitlement process goes well, construction could begin the year after, with the project to be delivered in three phases.
The first phase is expected to wrap in 2030, at which point the second phase will begin; the third and final phase is expected to start in 2033.
A nearly 47,000-square-foot grocery store is expected to be included as part of the first phase, which will replace an existing Vons store, to be demolished as part of the second phase.
The first phase will also include a 200-unit senior assisted living facility—expected to be the tallest building at the development and running around 20 or so stories—and a 250-key “premium” hotel tower.
A tree-lined paseo will allow cars to drive throughout the project; a pedestrian-only trail is also envisioned.
Related kicked off discussions on the project with the Callen family—namesake of the Callen’s Common street that runs in the middle of the retail center—in 2019.
In the years since, consumer shopping behaviors and the face of retail has continued to evolve away from traditional malls to e-commerce, with many shopping centers taking a hit, specifically during the pandemic, officials note.
Metro Town Square is one example of such a center witnessing the change first-hand; about 26% of the southern portion of the center is made up of big-box retailers Ross Dress for Less and Bed Bath & Beyond, the latter of which announced plans last week to shutter 150 locations nationwide. The center’s Ross has already announced plans to close, as part of a corporate restructuring plan.
“The nature of retail is changing, and we want to embrace that change and consider opportunities for future generations,” Related’s EVP Oh said.
As a child, Oh said he would visit the Toys R Us that was once located in the Metro Town Square.
“My relationship with this center has historically been one-dimensional,” he said, noting the new proposal will turn the site into a dynamic, walkable community where residents and visitors can spend time shopping, dining and relaxing.
Existing tenants will have the opportunity to relocate to another part of the center during construction at the time of the lease expiration, Related officials said. Tenants will also have the opportunity to sign a lease at the newly-built center should they choose.
While the 350,000 square feet of retail space proposed for Related Bristol is less than what exists at the center now, given the current vacancy issues facing the big-box retailers at the center, and the higher-end offerings that will be built, the city should see significantly higher sales tax revenues from the new development, Oh said.
Open Space, Mixed-Income
About 13 acres, or nearly one-third, of the new center will be designated for open space, with plazas and parks designed as community gathering hubs.
The center’s residential development is expected to be mixed-income, with rental units favored over for-sale homes. The exact unit makeup has yet to be determined.
“We want to approach this project in a holistic way, and deliver what is wanted and needed by the community,” Oh said. “We are in discussions with the city to see how we can best achieve that.”
The Related Bristol development site is about a block away from the interim Orange County Museum of Art at the South Coast Plaza Village center; the museum will open its long-awaited new location next month not far away on the grounds of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The Segerstrom family is reportedly eyeing a redevelopment of its own. Real estate sources tell the Business Journal that early stages of planning envision about 1,700 apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail at Santa Ana’s South Coast Plaza Village center, a collection of restaurants and smaller retailers across the street from the family’s better-known mall, South Coast Plaza.
The village center counts some 100,000 square feet of space, according to CoStar Group Inc. records. The site, home to a Morton’s The Steakhouse and a movie theater among other tenants, also counts an extensive amount of surface parking.
Related California Executive Vice President Steven Oh said its plans are designed to be complementary to Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, OC’s largest shopping center with over $2 billion in taxable sales last year. He said it is too early to determine whether they would collaborate on their respective development plans in Santa Ana.