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New owners of former Westfield North County plan to revitalize Escondido mall

North County Mall
Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 10:46:09-05

ESCONDIDIO, Calif. (KGTV) — While malls across the country are being torn down, replaced, or reimagined into something different, the new owners of the mall best known as North County Fair in Escondido believe the time and location are right for a renewal of what made large shopping malls popular in the first place.

“We know retail," Nate Mitchell, a managing director at Steerpoint Capital told ABC 10News. "We know the headwinds. We know the tailwinds. But we also know how vital the enclosed malls are to the particularly suburban markets that have grown up around them.”

Steerpoint, an investment group, teamed with the retail company behind the Shoe Palace chain, to purchase the mall from Westfield, one of the biggest mall companies in the world. The deal closed in early February.

Mitchell says they plan to take their time to study how the mall can be restored to its former glory and will consider all options as they slowly replace the Westfield signage with their own branding.

For now, it will be known as the North County Mall, although that could change.

“The naming is a part of it, but the energy behind it is what really matters here," Mitchell says.

While all options are on the table, Mitchell says that having a smaller ownership group means North County Mall will get more attention.

He believes that can help drive change, including bringing in new and stronger retailers, along with more entertainment options, which could include new restaurants and possibly a movie theater. But he also believes North County Mall is in good position to stave off the struggles that malls across the country, and locally, are dealing with.

As strengths, Mitchell cites the prime location off the 15, the lack of any other mall within 20 miles, a strong base of existing retailers, such as Target and the Apple Store, as well as a pending deal for Costco to take over the former Sears.

“The nimble, focused, attentive management and ownership that we’re going to bring to the table, I think, is going to be exactly what North County Mall needs," Mitchell says.

Other malls have gone a different route. Most notably, Horton Plaza is being redeveloped as a tech office hub, while the UTC Mall has added a large, high-density housing component.

Real estate economist Gary London, who has been hired by several San Diego-area malls to best study how to survive in a changing retail climate, says that housing, in particular, has been a strong part of successful mall turnarounds.

“When you bring people there to live, they become shoppers at the mall. It energizes the entire experience on that particular site. So that’s the major solution," London says.

He believes too many malls were built during the boom of the 1980s and 1990s. And with more people now shopping online, a trend that proliferated during the pandemic, the mall industry needed a correction.

“These malls aren’t going to go away for the most part. What they are going to do is they’re going to transform into mixed-use centers," London said.