WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Seeking to turn around more than two decades of lackluster performance at the Promenade mall, the shopping center’s new owner is considering converting it into a “big box”-oriented shopping center. Plans are in their formative stages, but Westfield America Inc. is looking at building retail stores with “large floor areas” and “large selections,” rather than the more boutique-sized specialty retail spaces now at the Woodland Hills mall, said Randall Smith, executive vice president of West L.A.-based Westfield. “We are considering (development of) what you would typically call big boxes,” said Smith. “The Promenade has proven that it can’t be successful trying to be a regional mall, so we want to make it a new product.” Smith declined to reveal which retailers his company would recruit to occupy a converted mall. Opened in 1973, the Promenade has never been a strong draw for shoppers. “This has always been an extremely slow mall,” said Joseph Reich, owner of See World, an optical shop that has been at the mall for 21 years. “Big box” is a term typically used for stand-alone retail buildings that house a single store with an extensive selection of merchandise, often sold at discount prices, and that sometimes contain other amenities such as cafes. The average size of a big-box store is around 50,000 square feet, whereas “in-line” specialty retail stores in malls typically take up about 6,000 square feet, said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. Westfield also owns the nearby Topanga Plaza mall, which has historically been the Promenade’s chief competitor and has been a much bigger customer draw than the Promenade. Smith said the development of big-box stores at the Promenade would ease this competition. “You generally have different merchants at a different price point in big boxes than you do at a regional mall like Topanga Plaza,” Smith said. “With that arrangement, the centers would be more complementary to one another.” Westfield officials still haven’t decided whether redevelopment would entail demolition of part or all of the existing Promenade. It may take as long as two years before a redevelopment plan is formed. The Promenade has long sought to attract high-end shoppers with anchors such as Robinson’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Competitor Topanga Plaza also has a few upscale anchors in addition to more value-oriented stores like Sears and Montgomery Ward. Macy’s has taken over two of the Promenade’s three anchor spots within the past five years, after the I. Magnin chain went bankrupt and Robinson’s pulled out following its merger with the May Co. Officials from Saks Fifth Avenue, which had the third spot, decided to leave after their store’s space was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That space was sold to Kansas City-based American Multi-Cinema Inc., which opened a 16-screen movie theater there in 1996. Promenade merchants said the addition of the AMC theater complex helped improve customer traffic, but it has not been the tonic they had hoped for. Westfield acquired the mall from Indianapolis-based Simon DeBartolo Group Inc., which had owned it since last September. Michael Schiff, senior associate with real estate brokerage Grubb & Ellis Co., said there is significant demand on the part of big-box retailers to find space in the neighborhood of the Promenade. For example, he said Toys R Us has been scouring the area to find space for a 50,000-square-foot store. “They’ve been looking for a long time, and there are numerous others in the area that want to grow that can’t find the space,” Schiff said. In developing a renovation plan for the Promenade, Westfield has to consider such factors as how much retailers are willing to pay for big-box space, whether parking will be adequate, and how much it would cost to buy out leases of tenants if their contracts are interrupted, Schiff said. He noted that this last point could be a source of problems. “You never know who is crying the blues because the closure will really hurt them, or who is crying the blues because they are trying for a better buyout,” Schiff said. Reich, the optician, said he will keep an “open mind” if he is approached with a lease buyout offer. “If they decide to tear the place down, nothing’s going to stop them,” said Reich, who has about two years left on his eight-year lease. “If a person who has come to me for glasses for 20 years wants me, they will come whether I am here or at another location.” Susan Pugliese, a manager at Mahogany Bay, a furniture boutique in the Promenade, believes it would be a disservice to the shopping community if the mall were converted into a big-box power center. From her conversations with customers, people come to the Promenade because they see it as a home and fashion “design center,” with high-end boutique stores not found elsewhere in the Valley.