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Tim Talk: Transforming Stoneridge mall

Stoneridge Shopping Center entrance.

Stoneridge Regional Shopping Center stood as the gem among centers in the East Bay for decades since it opened in 1981.

Originally opened with Macys, Emporium and JC Penney as major anchors, it expanded with two more majors in new wings—Nordstrom and Sears and Emporium went out of business but Macys took over its space. All seemed great until shopping habits shifted before the pandemic shutdown. Sears stores were struggling across the country.

Management could not change the negative trend and the Pleasanton store along with others across the country were shuttered.

Simon Co., the owners of Stoneridge, received approval from the city for a plan to tear down the store and the parking structure and build an outdoor shopping center that mixed restaurants, a compact grocery store (think Trader Joe’s) and entertainment similar to what makes up City Center in San Ramon.

The pandemic then hit and Nordstrom closed its Pleasanton store. The company decided to keep its downtown Walnut Creek store open as well as its Newpark Mall location in the East Bay. That’s despite the impressive demographics of Pleasanton and the surrounding Tri-Valley communities.

What that meant for Stoneridge is that it was down to two majors and one, JC Penney, was staggering.

It took a combined effort from mall owners Simon Co. and Brookfield, to take over 161 JC Penney stores and distribution centers in the United States. They took on more than $500 million in debt in that transaction to save anchors in their centers.

That leaves Stoneridge, owned by Simon, Macys, and 300 Venture Group that bought the JCPenney site last year, figuring out how to move forward.

The city is intently interested in two fronts: from a tax revenue although the sales tax revenue continues to fade; and from meeting the state-imposed zoning requirement for potential residential development. The mall land covers about 75 acres, most of it a sprawling parking lot.

The city faces a deadline this month to submit its plans to the state to zone land for more than 5,900 units over the next eight-year period.

In the 2012 regional cycle, 10 acres at Stoneridge was rezoned for residential at up to 40-units per acre, but there’s been no takers until recently when Simon Co. is processing a plan for 360 units there.

The San Francisco Business Times reported that under current proposals it could be zoned for up to more than 2,000 homes. The city staff is recommending 65 units per acre while the property owners are asking for 80 units.

New state law allows a density bonus for building affordable housing that could take the number to as much as 2,160 units with the 80-unit zoning.

The planning commission considered the proposals last night and the council will render a decision later this month to meet the state deadline. Assuming the numbers work—a major challenge—look for the mall area to be transformed over the next number of years.

Editor's note: "Tim Talk" is a blog written by Tim Hunt, a native of Alameda County. Hunt spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in addition to writing editorials for more than 15 years. 

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