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Issue date: December 15, 2000

Stoneridge sizzles Stoneridge sizzles (December 15, 2000)

Pleasanton center now in top 20 in U.S.

by Jeb Bing

When Stoneridge Shopping Center opened in time for the Christmas shopping season 20 years ago, Pleasanton teenagers stood at the doors waiting to shop at the new specialty stores that catered to their tastes - and for a place to hang out!

For others, Stoneridge offered enclosed, full service, family-friendly shopping that meant they no longer had to drive to Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord or Southland Mall in Hayward to shop.

On opening day in the fall of 1980, Stoneridge had 30 stores, including three anchors - Macy's, Emporium-Capwell and J.C. Penney. Today, it is filled to capacity with 165 stores, including Nordstrom, which opened 10 years ago, and its newest anchor, Sears, which opened November 1997.

With sales of more than $350 million last year, Stoneridge is one of the top 20 malls in America. It is also one of the top revenue sources and employment bases for Pleasanton. Serving more than 14 million shoppers annually, the shopping center generates nearly 20 percent ($3.7 million) of Pleasanton's sales tax revenue and 7 percent ($4.2 million) of the city's general fund revenue total ($61 million). Stores in the center employ from 3,000 to 3,500 teenagers and adults, depending on the season.

This resource base is why the Pleasanton City Council, led by then Mayor Ken Mercer, aggressively pursued Michigan-based Taubman Centers Inc. and its founder/owner A. Alfred Taubman when the company started eyeing Tri-Valley sites. Taubman, which owns Sunvalley and Hilltop Shopping Center in Richmond, was searching in both Livermore and Pleasanton for a new mall in what its analysts had predicted would be a growing, affluent market.

Pleasanton's government had just ended its first fiscal year after Proposition 13 cut its property tax base in half. To meet a looming financial crisis, the city had laid off 36 employees, reduced street and park maintenance and turned off every other street light in town.

At that time, downtown Pleasanton was quite different from the unique shops, boutiques, antique stores and restaurants that are there today. Mercer recalled that there were 19 bars, an auto repair shop, drug store and grocery store in buildings largely owned by out-of-town landlords. The Blue Agave restaurant at that time was the Pleasanton school district headquarters. The museum was then the City Hall and police station.

There were also few neighborhood centers or supermarkets. In fact, Mercer said that that when Burger King opened on Hopyard Road at I-580, it became the city's fourth largest employer with 76 part-time workers after the city and school district governments and Kaiser Aluminum on Sunol Boulevard.

"With property taxes cut by Prop. 13, we knew we had to generate sales taxes to meet our vision for growth, and Stoneridge became part of that vision," Mercer said. "We saw it as the tremendously large sales tax producer that it has become."

To clinch the deal, the council agreed to the only tax subsidy it has ever approved - allowing Taubman to finance and build a Stoneridge Drive overpass at I-680 with its early sales tax revenues that would otherwise have gone to the city. Before the overpass, Stoneridge stopped at the freeway, extending to Foothill on the city's west side and Hopyard Road to the east. Hacienda Business Park and its self-financed system of wide streets came later, in the 1980s.

"People say that Hacienda put Pleasanton on the map, but they're wrong," Mercer said. "While Hacienda is a premier business park development, it was Stoneridge that brought shoppers and developers - including the businesses in Hacienda - to Pleasanton."

Mercer also recalls the Christmas shopping seasons before Stoneridge.

"It used to be that one spouse would stay home with the kids on Saturdays while the other one drove to Hayward or Concord to shop," he said. "Stoneridge ended that frustration. Today, I can take time off work to do my Christmas shopping in an hour or two, ahead of the crowds."

And crowds there are. Stoneridge's 6,800 parking spaces are filled almost every evening and on weekends during this holiday shopping season, with many motorists parking in nearby office lots and walking to the mall. Also, with every square foot of its tenant space occupied, the shopping center has several large retailers and specialty stores in line for any openings. Even the popular Christmas decoration stores were blocked out this year.

"With Pottery Barn, Bebe and Sephora as recent additions to our already strong fashion lineup, we just didn't have any room for the temporary Christmas stores," explained Alice Waterman, general manager of Stoneridge.

"Retailing changes through the years and we change with it," Waterman said. "There was a time when stores were smaller. Now they're larger, including stores like the Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor and others. Victoria's Secret actually closed for six weeks to expand into more space. It looks like a brand new store."

Department stores such as Gottschalks and Lazarus have long been rumored as wanting space at Stoneridge, although neither store nor Stoneridge would comment. Whether true or not, another anchor store is not likely to join the ones already at Stoneridge without a significant redesign of the mall itself. That would require buying property and expanding - most likely to the south - and the construction of a controversial interchange at I-680 and West Las Positas.

Although interchanges at West Las Positas and Stoneridge Drive have long been part of both the city's general plan and Caltrans freeway plan, only the Stoneridge interchange was built in the early 1990s. The West Las Positas interchange has been tied up in a city-appointed study group for nearly three years, with strong opposition from homeowners near the interchange site.

When Taubman settled on the Pleasanton site, the company purchased most of the property between Stoneridge Drive, Foothill Road and the two freeways, with the exception of Kaiser Permanente medical offices, which was there already. After building the shopping center and parking lots on 75 centrally located acres, Taubman sold off the rest of its holdings. Today, five-story office towers are under construction by Charles Schwab and Safeway, which will complete the buildout of that property.

Besides tax revenue, Stoneridge has also helped make Pleasanton a shoppers' paradise. Its development spearheaded a rejuvenation and economic revival in the city's historic downtown. Specialty, discount and "big box" stores in neighborhood centers - including Home Depot and Wal-Mart - and most recently the Hacienda Crossings retail center across I-580 in Dublin make Pleasanton a hub for shoppers throughout the East Bay.

With excellent demographics and sales growth, these other retail centers, along with Stoneridge, offer one of Northern California's premier retail opportunities. Average household income, education levels and population growth in Pleasanton and nearby communities such as Dublin, San Ramon, Danville and Alamo are far above national averages.

"I think we really complement each other quite well," Waterman said. "We're really different retail venues and we all benefit from a super regional shopping center that draws from great distances. Shoppers come here because of the enormous varieties and selections," she added.

Like other shopping centers in the Taubman portfolio, Stoneridge and its management team are also community-focused. Doors open at 8 a.m. for those who want to stretch their legs and push baby strollers in a climate-controlled environment (no dogs, please!), and the center occasionally hosts special exhibits that attract young and old. The multi-story animals on display during this Christmas season were hand-sewn by a Michigan seamstress. A recent rainforest exhibit and memorabilia from U.S. Route 66 attracted thousands.

Alfred Taubman personally hosted a black tie reception for Pleasanton when the shopping center opened. Again on New Year's Eve of 1994, Stoneridge made its mall space available for another spectacular - Pleasanton's centennial celebration.

Sherri Beetz, principal of the new Hearst Elementary School, said she thinks that teenagers benefit the most from Stoneridge.

"I moved here with my parents from San Jose in the pre-Stoneridge days," she recalled. "Here I was, just 13 years old, and we moved to a city with no mall. With Stoneridge, Pleasanton teens have what they need: a great social spot, a place to meet and shop without driving on the freeway and, finally, a place to hang out." <@$p>

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