DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The evolution of Downtown Los Angeles has been marked with milestones that would be taken for granted in many communities. While the opening of a Ralphs Fresh Fare might barely warrant a second look in, say, Brentwood or Pasadena, the store’s arrival in South Park in 2007 was met with a line out the door, and local officials saw it as a symbol that major corporations were ready to invest in the Central City.
It’s been a similar occurrence for Grand Park. Whereas communal space with a fountain might seem unspectacular in many neighborhoods, in Downtown it has been celebrated not with one, but three major ceremonies and performances, the most recent on Oct. 6.
The latest in the line of celebrated openings comes this week. Today, Downtowners finally have the opportunity to shop in their own Target.
UPDATE: Due to misinformation provided by Target last week, the opening day was originally reported in this story as Oct. 14. It opened on Oct. 10. The story has been updated accordingly.
The 104,000-square-foot store, technically known as a City Target, is the anchor tenant of the FIGat7th shopping center following a $40 million renovation. The project includes a batch of new stores and a redesigned, 25,000-square-foot food court with 500 seats.
Although most of the stores and the food court won’t open for months, local stakeholders including 14th District City Councilman José Huizar are, indeed, looking at Target as both a store and a symbol.
“This is the type of critical amenity Downtown residents and workers need,” Huizar said.
Early last week, dozens of the store’s employees, dressed in the company uniform of a red polo shirt and beige pants, were busy putting the final touches on the store. Clothes were on the racks, the flat screen TVs in the electronics department were turned on, shelves in the grocery section were in place and the shopping carts were neatly parked at the front of the store. The in-house Starbucks was already serving coffee to workers on break.
Additionally, posters at bus stops have gone up, informing Downtowners of the shopping opportunity.
“We absolutely believe it is a catalyst for what will be a complete re-creation of Downtown from a retail perspective,” said Bert Dezzutti, senior vice president of Brookfield Properties, the owner of the FIGat7th mall. “We have been missing shopping.”
The long-awaited store fills nearly one-third of the 330,000-square-foot shopping center. At 104,000 square feet, it is about 25% smaller than regular Targets, said Carmen Moch, Target group vice president.
The compact size earned the store the City Target moniker. The reduced space is also what allowed officials with the Minneapolis-based retailer, which operates more than 1,700 stores nationwide, to come Downtown.
“We’ve been in the Los Angeles market since 1983 and the L.A. central area is an area we have not been able to serve mainly because of the format of our stores being very large,” she said. “But with this smaller format what we hope to do is play a key role in the revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles.”
Although the company has 58 stores in the Los Angeles area, the Downtown branch is only the second City Target. The first opened in Westwood in July and another is set to arrive at the Beverly Connection next year.
Moch would not discuss financial projections, but said she is confident the store at FIGat7th will be profitable. She said the company is counting on drawing customers from the rising Downtown residential population, the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the community and USC students.
The store hours, Moch said, are specifically tailored to the Downtown crowd. Target will be open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends.
Moch said they anticipate an early morning rush of customers stopping in for small items before work, a busy lunch hour and a big end-of-the workday crowd.
One of the principal challenges in coming Downtown was parking, Moch said. That was resolved with some changes to the large parking structure behind the mall, which also serves a pair of office towers.
Dezzutti said 500 of the facility’s 2,400 spaces have been dedicated solely for the retail center. The lower levels are reserved for shoppers while office workers are directed to the upper floors.
When it comes to bringing goods to the car, Target is echoing a plan in effect at a New York City store. After hitting the check-out line, customers can leave their items with a Target employee while they get their vehicle. They then drive to a ground floor loading area and the purchases are delivered to the car.
Brookfield purchased the 41-story tower at 725 S. Figueroa St. and the adjacent shopping center in 2006. Plans to upgrade the outdated 1986 mall were one of the first items on the company’s plate, said Dezzutti.
The renovation of the mall began in January 2011, two months after Target and Brookfield signed a lease during a press conference attended by city leaders including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Target is filling a portion of the mall formerly occupied by a Macy’s and a Bullock’s.
The renovation designed by Downtown-based Gensler addressed the mall’s cumbersome, circular layout of stairways, zigzagging escalators and side elevators. Now, a grand stairway that faces Figueroa Street leads pedestrians directly into Target’s middle floor entrance. The large metal frame that once hovered above the mall has been replaced with a glass canopy and twin columns sheathed in glass.
The ground-floor food court, dubbed Taste FIGat7th, will debut in December with almost 20 new restaurants. They include outposts of Silver Lake gourmet coffee house La Mill and Hollywood’s Loteria Grill. There will be a third Downtown Mendocino Farms and a Sprinkles Cupcakes.
The food court echoes the slick, modern design, with cement floors and gray-tile covered columns. Interspersed between the numerous small tables and chairs are several dark wood communal tables. Some of the restaurants will have private seating within their walls, Dezzutti said.
Next spring, the rest of the retail space will open with the mall’s second anchor store, Sport Chalet. The sporting goods giant will fill a 26,800-square-foot space on the lower level.
Other stores have yet to be announced, but 60% of the space is leased, Dezzutti said. He noted that negotiations are underway for the remaining space.
“The vision for the center was and is going to be a unique and unexpected combination of retail,” he said. “Target fits the bill for every customer, but now we are filling in very carefully the other pieces of this center.”
Shifting the Paradigm
Just like Ralphs five years ago, the arrival of Target is being viewed as both a store and a vote of confidence in Downtown.
“It’s really shifting the paradigm of what people think of Downtown,” Huizar said. “If a Target is there, others are going ask why they’re not there.”
The retailer’s presence will help sell Downtown in the future, said Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. One of the BID’s primary tasks is luring new stores to the area.
“It makes it clear this is a vibrant community,” Schatz said. “I think we are underserved retail wise in just about every category, and this is a huge happening. It’s going to be followed by other kinds of retail.”
Moch said the store aims to serve the needs of Downtowners. She noted that the City Target is designed to accommodate customers who are more likely to walk to the store than suburban residents.
“We looked at the size of products,” Moch said. “So for example, rather than the eight-pound bag of dog food, you’ll find smaller versions.”
While many Targets carry lawn furniture, the City Target will focus on things like patio sets with tables and chairs small enough to fit on a balcony. Instead of a large selection of outdoor items such as camping gear, the store has things like air mattresses.
There is also a grocery section with a bakery, dairy products, meats and vegetables.
Another distinct aspect of the Downtown store is a section called “City Love.”
Items on sale include hats, cups, postcards and other things that highlight aspects of Los Angeles. One postcard shows Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Downtown skyline and a T-shirt with two birds under the phrase “Los Angeles is for Lovebirds.”
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.