Seemingly four decades in the making, and on hold since 2008, construction is expected to begin in March on an upscale outlet center on a bluff.
MARBLEHEAD TIMELINE ’70S-’80S
Developers have been trying to build on San Clemente’s 248-acre Marblehead Coastal plateau for 40 years.
1974: Fujita proposes 2,099 homes on a coastal palisade.
1975: City Council rejects a scaled-down 1,750-unit plan. Lusk buys the land.
1981: Lusk proposes 1,824 homes, a 7-acre hotel site and a 14-acre shopping center but withdraws the plan as the city re-evaluates its general plan.
1983: Richard Nixon, a San Clemente resident during his presidency, picks a 16-acre Marblehead ocean bluff as the site of his planned presidential library.
1984: City approves a library site plan. Lusk offers to prepare the site once a Marblehead Coastal plan wins approval.
1985: Lusk proposes 1,506 homes, a 70-acre commercial site, the Nixon library, a hotel and more. City has problems with the plan, negotiates changes with Lusk.
1987: Nixon’s library foundation imposes a July 1 deadline for the city to approve a plan. Furious public debate erupts at Planning Commission hearings. The deadline passes. The City Council approves a plan Sept. 2. Nixon, then 74 and presumably wary of obstacles at the California Coastal Commission, puts the library in Yorba Linda, his birthplace. It opened in 1990. Loss of library voids Lusk plan.
1989: Lusk shows a conceptual plan for 500 homes, a commercial center, a golf course and a resort hotel. Efforts to market the plan to resort developers fail.
MARBLEHEAD TIMELINE ’90S-’00S
1995: Lusk proposes 600 homes, a 60-acre commercial site and 15 acres of parks.
1998: City Council approves 434 homes and a commercial center.
1999: Local group submits 5,000 petition signatures for an initiative seeking to overturn the approval. The petition is invalidated. A revised plan that includes an outlet mall wins council approval.
2000: City Council approves a plan for 424 homes, outlets and more preservation of natural landforms. Critics say it’s still too much earth moving.
2001: Developer Jim Johnson withdraws the project from the Coastal Commission after commissioners rebuke it for not preserving enough nature. Six months later, the City Council approves a modified plan: 358 homes, outlet center, parks and trails.
2003: Coastal Commission approves revised plan for 313 homes, outlet center, parks and trails.
2004: Johnson dies at age 70.
2005: SunCal purchases Marblehead Coastal for a reported $197 million. Fifty-two developable acres of it are sold to a partnership headed by outlet developer Steve Craig, with SunCal tasked to do site preparations.
2006: Grading begins.
2007: Construction begins on an Avenida Vista Hermosa bridge and other infrastructure.
2008: Work at Marblehead Coastal stalls as the nation’s housing market collapses and the economy dives. SunCal loses project funding as Lehman Brothers tanks.
2009: While project is mired in bankruptcy court, city sues to call in bonds and get promised infrastructures built.
MARBLEHEAD TIMELINE ’10S
2010: Settlement of city’s suit allows for resumption of some infrastructures.
2011: SunCal and Lehman Brothers settle bankruptcy fight, splitting up projects in which they were partners. Lehman gets Marblehead Coastal.
2012: Bridge is completed.
2013: Lehman Brothers, the city, the Coastal Commission and the project’s bondholders reach agreements to restart the 313-home project, parks, trails and outlet site.
2014: Craig expects to begin construction in March.
San Clemente’s coastal landscape may soon change with construction of Plaza San Clemente, a 580,000-square-foot Spanish-motif outlet shopping center on a palisade overlooking the Pacific.
Developer Steve Craig says he will begin building the first 325,000 square feet in March on 52 acres of the 248-acre Marblehead Coastal development. The $100 million center will be along I-5 at the southbound Avenida Vista Hermosa exit.
“I don’t believe there is another site in the state, or maybe on the West Coast, that has the major interstate – I-5, which runs north and south – that comes this close to the ocean,” Craig said. “That gives us the opportunity to have ocean views literally from the fronts of the stores. All the restaurants, especially, will benefit. People who dine there – all the patios and seating areas – are set up to look out at the water.”
The project could open in mid-2015, Craig said.
Plaza San Clemente has been on hold since 2008, when the economy tanked. The 248 acres’ master developer, SunCal Marblehead LLC, had sold the commercial site to Craig but was responsible for site preparation while also developing 313 residential lots, parks and trails. SunCal lost its Lehman Brothers backing. Upon emerging from bankruptcy, SunCal and Lehman split up partnered projects. Lehman got Marblehead. Site work resumed.
Craig has 11 outlet centers and also built Carlsbad’s, which he later sold. He said Plaza San Clemente will create up to 1,500 construction jobs and about 1,000 permanent jobs in phase one’s shops and restaurants.
“There will probably be almost 140 shops, a variety of merchandise from a lot of different vendors and a lot of stuff that not only is not here (in San Clemente) but also is not at Mission Viejo,” Craig said. “We’ll have a little bit of rivaling to what you see in South Coast Plaza.”
Among the highlights:
Dining: Up to 14 restaurants will sit on pads straddling an extension of Avenida Vista Hermosa, linking I-5 with Avenida Pico near San Clemente’s North Beach. Dining will range from white tablecloth to value-oriented menus.
Architecture: “This will be some of the finest retail space that you’ll see probably in Southern California,” Craig said. “I think we could put it up against what you see in Beverly Hills,” Craig said. “We could even put it up against some of the really authentic stuff that you see in Santa Barbara.”
More than 100 public meetings labored over details, Craig said. “I think,” he said, “the citizens here will be very proud.”
What you’ll see: Phase 1 will focus on the Avenida Pico end of the site. First up will be a sunken parking structure, sunk into the site. “We moved (the first phase 1) to the south end, closest to the parking structure, so that all that would be completed, and when someone comes in they’d have almost a seamless feeling of how it would operate at full completion,” Craig said.
Access: It’s designed for efficiency, Craig said. Most patrons will arrive southbound on I-5, turn right onto Vista Hermosa and take a quick left into the center. For any who miss the freeway exit, the Avenida Pico exit will offer alternate access via the other end of Vista Hermosa.
Parking: Craig said the center will have more than 6 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building. “Some of the more stringent codes are 5 to 1,” he said. “Some cities are 4.5 to 1.”
Traffic: “There are almost 100,000 people that live within 5 miles of here,” Craig said. “Now, they’re all getting in cars to go shop somewhere else. For those people, it’s actually going to reduce traffic. There will be people that come from greater distances that come and shop here. They’re going to bring traffic. Because of the time and scrutiny that went into this, I think it’s going to be pretty seamless. It’s not like they’re driving through neighborhoods or causing a lot of commotion somewhere else.”
In a slow economy, why outlets?: “The market looks exceptional. It’s countercyclical,” Craig said. “When people have less money to spend … they tend to be willing to spend a little extra time to find the best value.”
Financing: Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and Union Bank are providing financing, Craig said. “We’ve had relationships with them for a long time,” he said. “We did not get sideways with anybody during the downturn. We stayed current. That put us in a great position as we come out of the recession.”
Effect on downtown: Craig said his project will help San Clemente’s downtown, helping keep locals from leaving town to shop for apparel and other needs. “Equally as important is the number of people who will be coming here,” he said. “It’s a very good-looking downtown (and) we’ve committed to make sure we help market some of that, let people know where the downtown is. I think a lot of them will find their way down to North Beach and the Pier Bowl as well.”