Westfield Downtown Plaza; Sacramento, California

Macy's/Food Court area at Downtown Plaza's West End

Macy's/Food Court area at Downtown Plaza's West End

Sacramento is the state capital of California, and the core of its largest inland metropolitan area. With over 400,000 people in the city proper and almost two and a half million in the immediate area, Sacramento is the fourth largest fully independent metropolitan area in California and is the most important city in the state’s fertile Central Valley.

Sacramento’s Westfield Downtown Plaza is a classic example of a downtown shopping center built to drive an urban renewal effort. Opened in 1971 as a hybrid indoor-outdoor shopping mall along the K Street corridor of downtown Sacramento, the mall was meant to bring a significant amount of retail space to the center of the city. The center is two levels and has two traditional anchor stores as well as a movie theatre, and the main mall concourse (which is outdoor) aligns exactly with K Street at either end. There is also a small, two-level, mostly “enclosed” but very dank and dated portion on the mall’s south side. On the western side, the mall adjoins a pedestrian passage that goes under busy I-5 and connects to Old Town Sacramento, a popular tourist destination. At the eastern end, the mall spills onto the K Street Pedestrian Mall, where there is access to the city’s light rail system.

Downtown Plaza was originally developed as a one-level mall by the Hahn Company in 1971, and adjoined an existing Macy’s store that had opened in 1963. By the end of the 1970s, the mall was so successful that Weinstock’s moved their existing downtown store to the center, and Liberty House joined the roster as the third anchor. Liberty House was replaced in 1984 by I. Magnin, who similarly was short-lived at the center, closing in 1992. The loss of I. Magnin prompted a dramatic re-envisioning of the center, which added a second level and refreshed the look of the entire center of the mall (and, although I’m not entirely sure, likely added the food court as well). The Hard Rock Cafe also opened their lone Sacramento area location at the same time, and it became a major draw to the downtown area. After the renovation, the center boasted 1.1 million square feet of floor space. Weinstock’s closed in 1996, and their location became a second Macy’s store for Men’s and Home. Like most malls with the “Westfield” branding, this was more recent; the mall was purchased by Westfield in 1998.

Macy's at Downtown Plaza

Macy's at Downtown Plaza

In recent years, however, Downtown Plaza began to struggle. Although it is located at the center of downtown and thus is well-positioned for daytime office-worker traffic (including the many California state employees, who work within a close radius) and is just steps from Old Sacramento, and thus nets lots of suburban tourists, it’s falling prey to the competition from newer, larger suburban malls, especially Arden Fair and Roseville Galleria. In addition to this standard suburban competition, Westfield Downtown Plaza seems to face its own set of challenges. The mall thoroughly turns its back on its two parallel streets–J Street and L Street–which are major thoroughfares through downtown. As a result, these large avenues often feel barren and abandoned even as the mall’s heart is bustling. The flaw with this is that Downtown Plaza was so thoroughly walled-off from its surroundings that they weren’t able to benefit from spillover development much during the center’s truly successful days, and in turn downtown didn’t fully bloom into a successful retail district. The portion of the K Street Mall east of Downtown Plaza feels mostly windswept and abandoned, and can feel threatening even on sunny weekend afternoons. And apart from the mall and Old Sacramento’s waterfront, most of the activity in the center of Sacramento is in the large, bustling Midtown neighborhood, located about ten blocks east of the mall itself. Midtown is home to hundreds of restaurants, shops, and a thriving arts scene, including the city’s popular Second Saturday Art Walk event. But all of this activity is separated from the mall by a large convention center and blocks of office buildings and vacant storefronts that most pedestrians wouldn’t bother to cross.

One other strike against Downtown Plaza? Sacramento was one of the most adversely affected areas in the housing crisis of 2007-2009. Real estate prices in the area shot up precipitously during the 2000s due to the area’s relative proximity to the Bay Area and reasonably healthy economy, but the collapse of these prices was equally steep. By fall 2008, the Sacramento metropolitan area had the tenth worst foreclosure rate in the United States, and by some estimates one of Sacramento’s nearby cities–Stockton, 45 miles to the south–had the worst foreclosure rate in the nation. While California’s capital city still has a vibrant urban life and a fairly robust economy, it’s bad news for any shopping mall when so many area residents are in distress.

In 2006, Westfield announced an ambitious plan to refresh the mall. The vacant Copeland Sports anchor store on the second floor of the mall’s eastern end (above Hard Rock Cafe) would be the home of a relocated food court, which would improve the mall’s streetscape in relation to the windswept K Street Mall. The existing movie theatres would be expanded in size, and the mall would add a grocery store and a brand new anchor Target store. In addition, the main mall concourse–which is rather cut up, for an outdoor mall–would be opened up, and much of the now-dated 1990s decor would be replaced with a more modern, urban feel. This plan seemed to at least partially address Downtown Plaza’s two main problems: its poor relation to the streetscape and lack of “essentials” type stores to appeal to the burgeoning downtown population. Target and the grocery store could help draw in the many young professionals and families who had recently set up shop downtown, and the mall could reclaim its place as a retail hub in a city center that has a fair amount of activity but not much other major retail. You can read a thread about the original proposal at the SkyScraperPage forums.

Original 2006 redevelopment proposal for Westfield Downtown Plaza

Original 2006 redevelopment proposal for Westfield Downtown Plaza

Unfortunately, Westfield dragged their feet until the state of the economy made it a bad time for redevelopment. The first major blow was when Target backed out of the project in 2008, removing a significant impedus for the project. Although I can’t say for sure, it appears Westfield had begun not renewing leases, but also is understandably skiddish about proceeding with such a project, at this time, in such an economically precarious region. As a result, the mall–especially its second level–has emptied out dramatically in the past year. These photos were taken in April 2008, but there has been a significant increase in the vacancy rate since then, and many in the city have been criticizing Westfield’s lack of investment in the property even as they sink millions into expanding their 9-year-old mall in Roseville.

At the moment, it remains to be seen what will happen to Downtown Plaza, even as the rest of Sacramento’s city center sees continued revitalization.

17 Responses to “Westfield Downtown Plaza; Sacramento, California”

  1. I see a lot of Westfield properties struggling under their failure to ‘act’ to properly revitalize a center.

    Honestly, they’re a terrible mall developer who needs to be LJ Hooker’d into oblivion under their own hubris. I could maybe understand if there was some consistency in their centers in terms of quality, but honestly most of the “Westfield Shoppingtowns” I’ve seen (Eastridge in Gastonia, for example), are run down.

    [Reply]

    Jonah Norason Reply:

    @Alpha, LJ Hooker only seemed to develop three malls…the Bonwit Teller-anchored Richland (Fashion) Mall, the bigg’s-anchored Thornton Town Center, and the both-anchored Forest Fair Mall.

    Seriously, for this mall, Westfield should try to either enclose it or make it a fully outdoor shopping area (see “Fourth Street Live”, Louisville, Kentucky).

    [Reply]

  2. If you go to Dr Housing Bubble a California based real estate blog a lot of the issues braught up in this article have already been covered & will continued to be covered in greater detail there.

    One of the issues that is being covered is the pending budget crisis & prop 13 wich puts the property tax burden on newer residents. A second issue is the extreme dependence of sales taxes for state revenue.

    It is quite eye opening.

    [Reply]

  3. Okay, this is a bizarre, I just went to Downtown Plaza yesterday (I just posted some pics, but not updated my review yet). We must be on the same wavelength now.
    Anyway, this place was truly bizarre. One side, busy and interesting, the other side, dead and freaky. I was especially interested in the enclosed portion on the southside where the second level was closed off.
    It seemed to me this place was missing some important things, such as entertainment. It could be a Pier 39-type shopping center, but alas, it is not.
    I’m not sure if you noticed, but the paint was pealing in a number of areas. Lots of deferred maintanence. In fact, it also looked like they cut back on the cleaning crews for this place was dirty, too. I can see why I get so many complaints about this center.
    I hope Westfield will one day turn this into a Westfield-quality mall. Seems like low-hanging fruit for the right developer.
    Scott

    [Reply]

    Caldor Reply:

    @BIGMallrat, Yeah, I feel like they’ve been neglecting it. These photos were taken in April 2008 and it seemed to be in much better shape even then. I still wouldn’t consider this a dead mall but it is suffering from a lot of immediate neglect it seems, possibly in anticipation of the redevelopment.

    [Reply]

    Jonah Norason Reply:

    Westfield has neglected other malls (Crestwood, Northwest) but its outdoor.

    [Reply]

    SEAN Reply:

    @Jonah Norason,

    Interesting how Westfield spends money on SF Center & other properties in there largest trade areas & won’t spend on mid sized cities like ST Louis or Sacramento.

    [Reply]

  4. Westfield has poured tons of money into the other Sacramento area Westfield, Roseville Galleria. What’s with that? According to some of the information I’ve found, a number of property owners in the area of Downtown Plaza have resisted redevelopment. Everyone wants something different, it seems.
    Neverthless, I was astonished to find a carousel in your photos here, but they’ve removed it! What the heck?
    Scott

    [Reply]

  5. I worked in the garage portion of the Downtown Plaza at the exit (I’m the guy that took your ticket when you leave). This was a few years ago, but nothing has changed much since then. It’s really pale in comparison to Arden Fair and Roseville Galleria – which is much newer and seems to be getting renovated all the time. The downtown plaza has been wanting to overhaul the small movie theater too in to something more modern but that won’t happen. The food court is way outdated and it gets way too hot there in the summer. I never go there. I live about halfway between both the Downtown Plaza and the Arden Fair and I always just go to Arden.

    [Reply]

  6. One tiny “correction.” The Hard Rock replaced something called Sacramento Live, which was a multi-themed restaurant/nightclub type place. I think there were a dozen or so of them around the country in the 1980s…there was a dueling-pianos bar, a country bar, a diner-style restaurant, etc. It filled, I believe, two or even three levels of the mall right where HRC is now.

    [Reply]

  7. Just recently heard that the Hard Rock is going to be closing their location at Downtown Plaza. This will really make the east end of the mall a ghost town.

    [Reply]

  8. Sacramento mayor in talks with potential buyer for Westfield downtown Plaza:
    http://www.sacbee.com/2010/03/24/2629236/sacramento-mayor-in-talks-with.html

    Interactive listing of vacant storefronts at Downtown Plaza:
    http://www.sacbee.com/2010/03/24/2630990/vacant-storefronts-at-downtown.html

    [Reply]

  9. I grew up in greater Sacto. Downtown Plaza was just a street- K St. basically closed to traffic. It was plain simple with little to bother you in the middle of things. It was downtown which meant office workers could shop and sit in the middle. The best thing it offered was nice weather, and a cool breeze coming off the river, very important for Sacto.
    But then they renovated and around this time Macy’s ate Weinstock’s the local department store. I haven’t been back but the revamp blocked the sun, the breeze, the views of sky, and the simple elegance of an open street closed to traffic. Now it looks dated and any renovations will meet the same fate in ten years.
    I suggest clearing out the crap in the middle and having a pleasant open air experience again. Keep it simple, and put more trees in, and maybe a garden center retailer. If you build a mall downtown it is vital to keep it open to the rest of the center of the city.

    [Reply]

  10. The mall has been fairly vacant, but I have noticed a lot of new items lately. New stores and I think they revamped some of the areas. Also, cause I am downtown at night occasionally, I noticed they are changing out the lighting to what I think is LED? (anyone know?)

    They also have a Hyundai showroom going in…the ad on the barricade says it is the first one for Hyundai in a mall. Pretty cool.

    Unlike Johnny above, I like the architecture of the mall….just think it needs some more stores. If Apple or H&M was there, it would turn the whole place around.

    Here are a couple articles I found:

    http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/35503/Downtown_Plaza_gets_a_facelift

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2010/10/17/hyundai-to-open-store-in-westfield.html

    [Reply]

  11. This mall is set to be demolished in 2014 to make way for the new Sacramento Kings Arena. I believe that all of the stores are closed already.

    [Reply]

  12. Most of the mall is now gone. The arena, known as the Golden 1 Center, is under construction and is over a year away from opening in October of 2016. The mall was recently renamed Downtown Commons (or DOCO for short) on September 16, 2015.

    The stores in the old mall section between 5th and 7th Streets (which, in sections, were known as the 5th Street Market, Rotunda, and Garden Court) were vacated around April-May of 2014. Among the last national chain tenants in this section were Aeropostale, Bath & Body Works, The Body Shop, Claire’s, Express, Foot Locker, GNC, Gymboree, The Limited, and Victoria’s Secret. It was torn down beginning in August of 2014, except for the 24 Hour Fitness, which is still open.

    The mall section between 4th & 5th Streets (which was known as the Piazza section) remained open for the foreseeable future until June-July of 2015, when mall management announced that they were going to renovate and reorient this section so that future mall shops face the Golden 1 Center. Among the last national chain tenants in this section were Forever 21, Johnny Rockets, Hallmark Gold Crown, Panda Express, and T-Mobile. Starbucks was the last holdout and closed in September 2015. Macy’s and Century Theatres remain open throughout the renovation.

    The office building that sat at the corner of 5th & J Streets was also torn down in 2014. That section is expected to become a high-rise boutique hotel operated by Kimpton Hotels, which I believe will open sometime in early 2017.

    The website for Golden 1 Center is http://www.golden1center.com/

    The website for Downtown Commons (DOCO) is http://www.docosacramento.com/

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply


seven − 1 =