Unlike a number of southern Orange County cities, Laguna Niguel is experiencing a boom in business.
Residents will soon be able to shop at a new Whole Foods store, dine at a brand new neighborhood restaurant and more.
According to Dan Fox, community development director, the city's overall occupancy of retail space is at almost 100 percent.
"Laguna Niguel has been very fortunate through all of this [the economy] and remained pretty stable with our businesses; a lot has to do with the fact we are a residential community," he says. "The majority of our shopping centers have been set up to provide the staples of the community and everyday services they need."
Costar, a real estate company that tracts this information, reports that Laguna Niguel is 95 percent occupied, Dana Point 93 percent occupied, San Clemente 88 percent occupied, Aliso Viejo 91 percent occupied and San Juan Capistrano 85 percent occupied.
"We are still seeing new business come in at most of our managed shopping centers" Fox says. "Ocean Ranch has recently added Beach Pit BBQ and Chipotle. The Marketplace at Laguna Niguel and Aliso Creek Village are almost at 100 percent or anticipate that they will be by the end of the year. Talking with the property managers, there is interest in the big suites out there that are available, so we are optimistic about getting them re-tenanted."
Goodbye, Big Guys
Some of those big suites include stores that have closed their doors over the last two years, such as Mervyns, Expo Design Center and Tall Mouse.
"Typically, we don't find out if there is a prospective candidate right away; they do keep it close to their chest until at some point they commit and sign a lease or submit plans to us," Fox says.
Such could be the case with St. Joseph's Hospital, which has hinted at taking over the now defunct 95,000-square-foot Expo Design Center, at 25600 Rancho Niguel, which went out of business this year.
"Where it's going I can't guarantee, but they are interested in creating a wellness center, a fitness facility and physical therapy, as well as ancillary medical offices and other uses that would cater and complement the hospital in Mission Viejo.
"It's definitely in the early stages, and that type of use is parking-intensive," he continues. "The Expo was set up as a furniture/home improvement facility that had less of a parking demand. That is something that they will need to work on with us on and will need to figure out if that is going to work for them or not."
St. Joseph's declined comment.
But former Expo space management company CBRE's Tim McMahon said, "They have expressed interest, and we'll see what happens. Expo closed in summer 2008, so we would like to get someone in the space."
And while there may be some shining news for the former Expo site, there have been reports that longtime tenant Loehmann's may be vacating the space that it has held since 2001 because the chain is closing 20 percent of its stores nationwide.
Not true, says Ann Forella, director of asset management for Buie Stoddard Properties that manages the center. "We have not heard of any closings. In fact, the Laguna Niguel store is one of the most successful of Loehmann's stores."
As for the Plaza de La Paz, it is 97 percent leased, according to Gerry Flanigan, vice president of real estate with the Horowitz Group, which owns the center.
"We have a new restaurant celebrating its grand opening Nov. 15—Deemer's, a hamburger and salad place, and there is interest in a few of the other empty suites. Sylvan Learning Center is gone, as is a chiropractor."
In addition, one of the center's largest tenants, Euro Day Spa, at 5,200 square feet, closed its doors in October and will continue to operate only its other location, at 30201 Golden Lantern St.
New Places to Shop
There is good news where Tall Mouse, at 23922 Aliso Creek Rd., was once in the Aliso Creek Village Plaza. The mega craft store was in 36,600 square feet and closed its doors after a huge liquidation sale July 15. The space was recently leased by Whole Foods, which will open in the winter.
"We are excited to expand our store sites in Orange County, and Laguna Niguel is a great place to start as we add to our current store locations in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach," said Marci Frumkin, executive marketing coordinator for the Southern Pacific Region of Whole Foods.
Also in the same center, the space occupied by Chocolate Café, a sweets-lover's paradise that closed up shop in 2008, will have a new tenant. The New Mandarin Garden will move from its present location at 29971 Alicia Pkwy. in December to occupy the 2,040-square-foot space.
A few miles away, at 27200 Alicia Pkwy. in The Marketplace at Laguna Niguel, Mervyn's closed in 2008, along with numerous others across the country; there have been reports that Forever 21, a clothing store, is eyeing the property. The center's new management company, Burnham USA, which took over the lease Sept. 22, says that's not the case.
"Forever 21 will not be occupying the building. We are in negotiations with several credit tenants at this time, but no tenancy has been announced yet," said Stephen K. Thorp, executive vice president.
"Mervyn's filed for bankruptcy in late 2008, and subsequently left a 77,717 square foot vacancy in the City of Laguna Niguel," he continued. "Since acquiring the property in September 2010, we have been actively pursuing filling the void and we hope to announce the new tenancy shortly. We are very excited about the new retail opportunity that we will be able to provide the community."
The building was one of the center's anchor stores, in addition to Ralphs, and with its closure, has slowed traffic in the center. However, many are hopeful it will have a new tenant, including Mayor Linda Lindholm.
"Laguna Niguel is a wonderful city and we look forward to new businesses that will fill the few buildings that became empty a couple years ago. It is a great time for additional businesses to come into the city to create a stronger local economy."
Big Box Stores No More
"What we have seen with these entire big boxes, nationwide, like the Circuit City stores, Linens-n-Things, is that we had all these larger big-boxed type of business that have closed their doors and left huge inventories of commercial space. I suspect that Burnham is a big commercial investment portfolio company and am sure they will do what it needs to do to get it leased out," says Fox.
On an even more positive note, Mercedes-Benz of Laguna Niguel is not only doing well, but also adding a service bay for its Sprinter van line and expanding the showroom.
Another car dealership that will sell only "woody" vehicles called Woodies USA was announced at the Nov. 9 planning commission meeting by owner Gary Clark. He will sell used vehicles at the 2,730-square-foot Hunsaker Commercial Center at 27992 Camino Capistrano, Suite C.
"I think there is good news on the horizon and in the future .... I think the doom and gloom is over," Fox says.