Struggling shopping center shows signs of progress
Struggling shopping center shows signs of progress
Photo by Janice Worthen.
It’s almost noon on a Saturday, and while other shopping centers across Alameda are filling up with a weekend’s rush of customers, things are pretty quiet at Harbor Bay Landing. The only signs of life are a handful of people going to and from the shopping center’s anchor tenant Safeway and a few small groups of people chatting outside Coffee and Tea Traders.
In fact, the once bustling Harbor Bay Landing now resembles more of a ghost town than a shopping center. The walkways are covered with fallen leaves, most of the wooden benches are stained or sagging, and many of the signs explaining the center’s rules are faded and aged.
Deeper in the center, an abandoned shopping cart sits next to a vacant shop where plastic applied to the inside of the windows has started to peel and curl down. Many of the retail spaces are empty these days, their windows covered with plastic and large leasing signs. The businesses that have managed to stay open—two title companies, two real estate agencies, a few restaurants, an investment firm, a salon, a gym, and a dry cleaning shop—appear to be losing the battle against the vacant spaces that border them.
But recent work on Harbor Bay Landing’s roofs has made some Alameda residents wonder if things are about to turn around for the shopping center. A city memo from planner Allen Tai says that, besides “new roof installation and landscaping improvements,” the property’s broker has said that owners plan to paint the center’s buildings. The memo also says the property owner has “developed a new marketing effort to attract tenants,” including listing rent as negotiable.
Interim Community Development Director Debbie Potter said that by listing rent as negotiable and hiring a professional to market the property, owners seem to now be embracing a “give and take” attitude with tenants and might be more flexible when it comes to leasing rates. Rich Krinks, Harbor Bay Landing’s new broker, said the owners also plan to plant trees at the center following the winter season. Krinks said the roof improvements and marketing has already generated some interest and a couple prospective tenants are currently in contract negotiations.
But owners still have a lot of work to do, including winning back the faith of customers and tenants.
The physical and financial decline of Harbor Bay Landing has gained some notoriety in Alameda over the years. Back in 2011, Alameda resident Irene Dieter even created a video montage titled “Sad Side Show at Harbor Bay Landing” that highlights the center’s need for repairs (the video is still available on YouTube). Potter said community members have taken issue with the state of the center, and she thinks it needs deeper maintenance work before painting occurs.
Current tenants were willing to talk about maintenance issues at the center and their experience over the years but asked not to be named because they don’t want their feedback to affect their leasing rates and future negotiations with owners. One tenant said the center’s flooring is a primary concern, especially the loose bricks in the front walkway that present trip hazards. Another tenant said that dry rot is a problem.
Previous stories on Harbor Bay Landing have pointed to the owner’s failure to maintain the property and high and rising rent as being the main causes of tenant loss over the years. Current business owners said that the state of the center as a whole is frustrating but that high rent, more than maintenance issues, is the primary cause for the decline in tenants – and for them, customers.
One tenant said that the rent takes everything businesses at the center earn. Another said they are definitely “maxed out” on what they can pay for rent, especially with the decrease in customers. These same tenants remember a time when shops were open and foot traffic was strong and said it’s been sad watching business after business close.
Some tenants said they’ve noticed the roofs have been redone but are not convinced this means a renewed interest on the owners’ part in filling the center back up with businesses. Tai’s city memo says that, following a 2012 Development Agreement, Harbor Bay Landing “was subsequently sold and is no longer under the ownership of Harbor Bay Entities.” Records show that Harbor Bay Landing did go up for sale back in 2011, and that Retail Opportunity Investments Corp. initiated an agreement to purchase the property. However, that sale was cancelled on November 14, 2011. When asked whether the owners still intend to sell the property, Krinks said shopping centers like Harbor Bay Landing are always up for sale for the right price but it’s not currently on the market.
If the recent improvements to Harbor Bay Landing were done to sell the property instead of to attract new tenants, then the revitalization of the shopping center may take longer than residents and tenants have hoped. But many tenants at Harbor Bay Landing said they would welcome new owners who understand the market and would charge a fair and competitive rent. One tenant said new owners might make improvements faster than the current owners have.
Whether the owners change or stay the same, it seems there will be no lack of support for any efforts to improve the shopping center. Potter said the community has shown a “willingness to patronize the center” and that the city has and will continue to reach out to the center’s owners to help them with planning, checklists, and city requirements.
Potter said the center has room for two more restaurants which could build the energy and momentum the center needs to succeed. Coffee and Tea Traders, La Val’s Pizza, and La Penca Azul are popular among the customers who still frequent Harbor Bay Landing. But Potter said that increasing daytime traffic at the center is still a goal.
Krinks said the center’s owners want to attract franchises that might be popular in the family-centered neighborhood. Current tenants said they see more customers when there is a wide variety of businesses at the center and that they would welcome a “good mix” of tenants similar to what existed when Harbor Bay Landing was a livelier place.