Retail Renovation

Vancouver's Westfield Mall to undergo multi-million dollar remodel; Cinetopia on board

There's only one place in town that offers area residents the ability to attend a church service, sit for a tattoo session and brush up on combat training all in one stop – the Westfield Vancouver Mall.

While this combination of activities might be an odd marriage, it's one that Clark County's largest indoor retail space has had to commit to during the current economic landscape. However, the prospect of economic recovery is bringing about some positive change in the form of a comprehensive remodel – one that's certain to impact both shoppers and job seekers.

Preliminary plans for the multi-million dollar renovation, originally approved in 2008, were re-evaluated and initiated last month by Australian-based Westfield. Construction on the project is slated to begin in January and includes aesthetic improvements to the mall's interior décor and four main entrances. Plans include new flooring, glass handrails and improved lighting.

"This type of investment provides a new look, new energy and new opportunity to keep up with retailer demand," said Paige Allen, general manager of Westfield Vancouver. "It will also benefit our loyal customers who rely on us for a quality shopping experience."

In addition, shoppers will see upgrades to vertical transportation and seating areas, as well as more restrooms, a newfangled children's space and the addition of a Cinetopia theater. New tenants will begin leasing space between 12 and 18 months after renovations are complete.

"We're going to expand the tenant mix to better serve the Vancouver community and its changing demographics," Allen said. "The community has changed a lot, and we want to make sure that we're bringing in tenants that best serve our trade area."

While the U.S. Census Bureau's September retail and food service sales report registered a 7.3 percent increase compared to the same month one year ago, Clark County isn't showing as much promise. Countywide, retail sales remained largely flat in the second quarter of this year, according to state figures released in October. For that reason, the timing of the Westfield remodel comes as a bit of a surprise to many.

Jessica Curtis, director of marketing for Westfield Vancouver, said investing in a down economy is nothing new for Westfield. In mid-2008, the group completed a  $240 million expansion to Westfield Southcenter in Tukwila, Washington. At that point, mall traffic was flat and same-store sales were decreasing nationwide.

"Although Westfield is certainly sensitive to the current economic environment, we have a much longer view – two, five, even 10 years ahead," Curtis said. "Westfield has been in this business since 1960. We're a long-term owner that invests and reinvests in our portfolio of shopping centers through economic cycles."

By preparing Westfield for the future, the company hopes to be ready for the economic recovery and the shoppers that live in the area. Curtis cites recent and projected growth in Clark County as a huge opportunity.

With Westfield Vancouver's last remodel coming in 1993, it's not a stretch of the imagination to say there's been noticeable growth. Since 1990, Clark County's population has grown nearly 83 percent, making it the second fastest growing county in the state since the 2000 census, according to 2010 state estimates.

"We feel the community can support this type of investment," Curtis said. "Our focus is on creating and maintaining the environments where consumers will choose to spend money – even in a challenging economy."

The addition of Cinetopia is sure to help drive customers to the mall. Allen said a movie theater is consistently a top request by Westfield Vancouver customers – and this isn't just any movie theater either.

Westfield and Cinetopia intend to entice movie-goers with a state-of-the-art movie house featuring digital projection, the finest sound systems in the industry and 3-D theaters. The accommodations continue into the lobby, which will house a full service restaurant, bar, art gallery and many other unique entertainment options.

"We are excited about the addition of Cinetopia to the tenant lineup," Allen said. "They will further enhance the retail, dining and entertainment offerings for our customers."

It should be noted, the Westfield remodel isn't solely about making customers happy. The numerous additions are also meant to enhance the overall retail, dining and entertainment experience in order to attract new tenants.

Vacancies at the mall are nothing new these days (11 spaces vacant at press time), though Curtis hopes new tenants Fuego, Activate Cellular and Favorite Yogurt are evidence that a new round of businesses are on the way in.

It's estimated that the Westfield Vancouver expansion project will open up some 600 construction jobs. Add to that, the number of employment opportunities created by future retailers – those are jobs that can't come soon enough for a county with the highest jobless rate in the state.

According to the Washington State Department of Revenue, Clark County's high unemployment rate is directly linked to a decline in development. In turn, that lack of development has been instrumental to the decline of retail. Thus, Westfield's investment is being held in high regard across the county.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt called the Westfield project a boon to the community.

"With this investment, it's easy to anticipate that our residents will have more convenient and desirable choices for shopping here in our city," Leavitt said. "Further, such an investment by Westfield is welcomed due to the likely increase in job opportunities for our residents."

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