San Bernardino Seal

Posted: 12/17/2009 06:56:03 PM PST

Plans to redevelop Carousel Mall into a government center with shops and offices offer more hope for San Bernardino’s struggling downtown than we’ve seen in a while.

Clearly, change is needed downtown, which suffers from a dearth of entertainment venues and empty storefronts. Just as clear is the need for change at Carousel Mall, the decades-old shopping center that occupies a prime piece of downtown real estate east of the 215 Freeway. The mall is not the moneymaker it was in the 1970s, and today costs the city of San Bernardino more than it can give in return.

Talk of refashioning Carousel Mall is not new, of course. Civic and business leaders have gone round and round about what to do with the mall as its anchor tenants – J.C. Penney Co., Montgomery Wards and Harris’ – pulled out over the past decade.

Local colleges and school districts have considered educational uses for the property, but such discussions have quieted in recent years due to lack of interest and budget constraints.

Meanwhile, economic development experts have long seen the mall as a tremendous asset to the city, given its location to major freeways and ample parking. There was brief talk among some community leaders of converting the mall into a casino, but most agree that a mixed-use development including a major overhaul of the property is the best option.

We concur, and are pleased to see the city moving in this direction.

Following up on a 2007 study by the Urban Land Institute, the city last year signed on EDAW, a Los Angeles-based urban planning firm, to draft a vision and action plan to redevelop the mall and the area surrounding it. The final plan released in April includes a city/county government center, a Main Street-type retail lane, hotel and “heritage” square, developments that city leaders say emphasize historic assets such as the Harris Building and California Theatre.

San Bernardino County officials have indicated support of the concept; the county has outgrown its offices and the Board of Supervisors has had closed-door meetings to discuss purchasing the mall site.

We support keeping county offices in the city for which it is named but, more than that, we support the city’s proposed civic center for the energy it can bring to what is now a visually and economically depressed area.

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