The Walnut Creek City Council prepares to vote tonight on whether to repeal an earlier decision to allow a planned Neiman Marcus project to be built in Broadway Plaza. With that fateful decision on the agenda tonight, I thought I’d share some of the letter that The Macerich Company, the owner of Broadway Plaza, wrote to the City Council, saying it was willing to go back to the drawing board in the face of mounting public opposition over the project’s proposed size and failure to provide additional parking.
It’s amazing that neither Macerich nor the City Council saw this opposition coming, given that a number of people spoke out against the proposal at public hearings. The opposition includes a lawsuit that could halt the project and a referendum petition that puts the matter of this upscale department store coming to Walnut Creek up to voters.
The City Council rushed to approve the project, wanting to add yet another high-end retailer to its downtown portfolio. The city believes that the additional sales tax revenues that Neiman Marcus would generate would help support a variety of programs, including transportation, lanscaping, parks, etc. As I’ve said before, I don’t care whether Neiman Marcus ultimately comes to Walnut Creek, unlike some other residents, who worry about locals who can no longer afford to shop in downtown Walnut Creek and who don’t want to deal with the hassle of increased traffic and parking. I just am wary of how the City Council fast-tracked what turned out to be a flawed proposal.
Given that we’re in the midst of what some economists have termed the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, you have to wonder if Neiman Marcus would be the gold-laying goose that Walnut Creek is hoping for. Neiman Marcus posted an 84 percent drop in profit during its fiscal first quarter that ended November 1 as its affluent shoppers cut spending, according to this Reuters report. In fact, the same article says that, while the company is not planning to close stores in the face of these financial losses, it has decided to put major and minor remodel plans on hold.
Hmm. Could Neiman Marcus's financial woes be the real reason that Macerich is willing to re-think this project right now? John Genovese, Macerich’s executive vice president, says, in his letter to the Walnut Creek City Council, that rethinking the project has to do with Macerich wanting to do a better job "to understand more about local sentiments concerning the project.” If that's the case, it's about time, don't you think?
He goes on to say: "Our recent polling, conducted in mid-November, demonstrated both local support for the Neiman Marcus addition as well as some understandable community concerns. The results highlighted specific opportunties to rethink our Neiman Marcus plan so that it makes greater sense for us, and, particularly, for Walnut Creek residents."
Genovese says Neiman Marcus works hard to be "in synch with our communities ... Moving forward, Macerich plans to bring forward an improved and modified proposal that we believe will better meet the expectations of Walnut Creek residents."