Santa Rosa Plaza unveiled plans Thursday for a multimillion-dollar makeover, one that city leaders hope will help integrate the shopping mall into downtown Santa Rosa.
The mall will get more street-facing shops and restaurants. New glass-paneled entryways and a pedestrian breezeway will help break down the barriers between Santa Rosa Plaza and surrounding areas, said Jamie Rusin, a Berkeley architect working for mall owner Simon Property Group.
"They connect the inside of the mall to downtown," he said.
The mall, which opened in 1982, is viewed by critics as a wall that has divided the city's core, sapping its vitality by hampering movement from downtown to Railroad Square.
The proposed redesign will help the city realize a long-held dream, said Jake Ours, vice mayor of Santa Rosa. When the renovation is completed, the mall will blend more seamlessly with downtown and Railroad Square, he said.
"We're finally taking our first steps," Ours said.
The facelift should attract new stores and help existing ones, said Kelly Hartsell, a Simon regional vice president. Simon is talking with several retailers about filling vacant spots in the mall, she said, declining to reveal their names until the deals are finalized.
The 16-month project also will update the mall's interior, including the food court, restrooms, flooring, seating, handrails, lighting and color scheme. Parking lot upgrades include a charging station for electric vehicles.
"There's a great opportunity to make it more inviting to the community," Hartsell said.
The changes will be good for her business, said Mary Armitage, manager at Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill near the mall's east entrance. "It's going to be more inviting," she said.
"It's an excellent idea," said Edward Essayan, who owns A Child's Dream, a toy store in the mall. Shoppers spend more when they feel comfortable, he said.
It's the most extensive remodel in the mall's history, according to Simon. Work is scheduled to start in July, but the company must first get design approval from Santa Rosa.
Simon still is negotiating with the city over its request to charge for parking at the mall, Hartsell said. The idea has drawn fire from critics, but Simon officials said paid parking is needed to make sure shoppers can find spaces.
The Plaza provides downtown's only free parking, and downtown workers take too many of the spots, Simon has said.
The 700,000-square-foot mall is anchored by Macy's, Sears and Forever 21 and has 120 specialty stores.
Simon also is co-owner of Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall, which broke ground on a smaller-scale renovation last month.
The two projects show Simon's commitment to Santa Rosa's retail market, Hartsell said. Last week, Simon Property Group said it will spend $350 million on retail renovation and expansion projects this year — up from $124 million in 2010 — as the retail economy continues to improve.