Bohannon Pitches A New Vision for North Block of Hillsdale Mall

Bohannon, Bohannon Development Company, San Mateo, Peninsula, Stance, ELS Architecture and Urban Design, retail

Bohannon Development Company (along with Stantec and ELS Architecture and Urban Design) went in front of the San Mateo Planning Commission last week to pitch a new vision for the 12.5-acre north block of its iconic Hillsdale Mall located in the heart of San Mateo. This was not the first time the Peninsula developer has proposed changes to the mall, and it will likely not be the last since the Planning Commission asked for a number of considerations even as it admitted that the newly proposed plan was very close to one that would find support within the city.

[contextly_sidebar id=”vPHQ3PKDdi1yndSiD6y3sllYdVLxAoJI”]Hillsdale mall was fist constructed mid last century, and it served as an important economic driver of the burgeoning post-WWII Peninsula community (see video above). The initial design of the mall featured an open-air shopping center that was anchored by Macy’s and Sears Roebuck & Co. In the 1980s it was expanded and enclosed, and Nordstrom and Mervyn’s were brought into the fold. Mervyn’s is long gone, and Sears will be departing soon. Bohannon had successfully replaced the Mervyn’s space with Cheesecake Factory, Forever 21 and H&M during the recession. In May of 2013 it also floated a proposed Target takeover of the Sears space in addition to a luxury cinema operated by Cineopolis as an upgrade option to its northern block.

“Much has changed at the shopping center over the course of the last 60 years,” said Bob Webster, president and CEO of Bohannon Development Co., who spoke at the special session. “The center has continuously evolved to adapt to changes in the market place. This is consistent with what is happening with similar shopping centers across the country as department stores are gradually disappearing from our landscape,” he added.

The San Mateo-based developer has seen this evolution in front of its own eyes. And while the Target deal has not materialized, Webster and his team are charging forward with the inevitable evolution of the retail center.

“The new trend for centers such as Hillsdale is to provide experiences that the internet cannot offer—particularly experiences that are anchored by food and entertainment, in addition to retail. The north block redevelopment will continue and accelerate that trend,” said Webster.

Hillsdale Mall north block 2015 proposal

The new proposal is fundamentally looking to transform the north block through the demolition of the Sears building, the food court and the office space existing on the premises today. It would effectively relocate the square footage from the Sears building to a series of newly-constructed buildings located closer to 31st Avenue and El Camino Real and also relocation of the food court onto the retail bridge that crosses 31st Avenue.

The luxury movie theater would anchor the north block, although visually an open-air plaza would be the focal point of the redevelopment. Five full-service restaurants would be accompanied by a fitness club, an upscale bistro, bowling and bocce operations, making the plaza a community and social centerpiece of the mall.

The existing gross floor area of 579,639 would be increased by another 54,830 square feet, a roughly 9 percent lift, while at the same time deducting nearly 230 parking spaces to allow the new structures. The mall features roughly 1,000 parking spaces above the required 4,405, giving it room to maneuver within the footprint.

In January, 61 member of the public met to review this second pass of the proposal, and most have found Bohannon to be extremely supportive of their concerns. Pedestrian circulation, parking, moving vehicles to the parking lot in a most efficient, non-conflicting way remain challenges for the new proposal, and the Planning Commission asked Webster for further consideration.

“We think this is a major improvement over what the [candidate] presented us earlier,” said J. Christopher Massey, one of the planning commissioners.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more details,” added Charlie Drechsler, vice chair of the planning commission. “I agree with all the positive comments that have been said and express concern basically about access. Continue to please refine what that pedestrian experience is going to be.”

Image courtesy of Bohannon Development Co.