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February 24, 2009

After WC city leaders and Broadway Plaza (finally) listen to what people have to say, they receive more favorable feedback on Neiman Marcus

"City should have listened more the first time. … Public input should have been done earlier. … Macerich [owner of Broadway Plaza] listened. … Like [the new] design much better. … Improved parking is good. … Didn’t like prior valet. …

"Positive impression. Neiman working hard to come to WC…"

See?!?!

See what happens when city leaders actually seek to have a dialogue with the people they are elected to serve? See what happens when a developer makes an effort to take feedback--positive and negative--from future customers of its proposed business?

See what happens when you make people feel they are part of the process you have put in motion?

Instead of resentment, petition drives, and lawsuits, people respond more out of a willingness to look at a proposal with objectivity, rather than out of fear and defensiveness. City leaders and developers can see constituents and consumers warming up to an idea they fiercely want to sell.

I’ve got to say it: Duh! Why didn't the Walnut Creek City Council and Macerich get this months ago?

The above-quoted comments about a revised Neiman Marcus project were made during a January 31 workshop that Macerich hosted. The comments are contained as an attachment to a staff report released as part of the agenda for Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on Macerich’s scaled-down plan to bring upscale retailer Neiman Marcus to Walnut Creek.

In case you don’t know this tumultuous history, Macerich initially proposed building a three-story, 107,100-square-foot Neiman Marcus at the corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and South Main Street. And Macerich apparently didn’t want to have to provide additional parking—as is required of other new retail projects. (Geeze, it costs money to provide additional parking! )Macerich instead proposed converting the five-story South Main Street garage to valet parking on weekends and during the holiday shopping season.

Okay, there are some sexually-tinged metaphors I could use here about the city’s breathless, eager acquiescence to Macerich’s seductive promises and rather outrageous expectations. I won’t revert to these rather tantalizing metaphors, because, uh, this is a family website (:

The city said, "Yes, Dah-ling, come, we want you (heave-heave), no matter what, no matter how!"


And that includes giving in to a very silly valet parking proposal. The city said, “yes, yes, yes,” even though some residents shouted “no, no, no!” and less vocal but very reasonable residents and newspaper editorial columnists said, “Stop, wait, take a deep breath, think about what you’re doing.”

The long and short of it is, the city didn't listen. Rather, driven by its appetite for extravagent, sales-tax-revenue promises (that now seem soooo 2008), the city approved Macerich’s proposal, despite public concerns. Very soon, a successful petition drive was mounted, financed, secretly at first, by a rival shopping mall company that forced the Neiman Marcus proposal up for a citywide vote.

The city and Macerich relented, and it doesn't appear they did so out of any high-minded principles about public goodwill. Rather, and disappointedly, they did so, under duress of a lawsuit and a voter-referendum drive.


If only the city and Macerich could have been more sensitive to very obvious, glaring public concerns about the project in the first place: A lot of time, energy, and public money would not have been wasted on a flawed original proposal.

So, now Macerich has re-submitted a proposal that is somewhat scaled down, from a three-story 107,100 square-foot Neiman Marcus to a two-story 92,00 square feet store. As for the controversial parking issue, Macerich has devised a solution that involves giving spaces used by Broadway Plaza employees over to consumers. One element of the solution is to install and operate a “lift system” that would allow “vertical stacking” of vehicles for Broadway Plaza employees.

You can read yourself more about this new, improved proposal and weigh in on it.

As I’ve said, I don’t have strong feelings one way or another about whether Neiman Marcus comes to town. (Personally, I can’t see myself shopping there. It’s not in my price range; I actually don’t think it’s in the price range of a lot of fellow Walnut Creek residents, especially in this challenging economy.)

The main thing I care about is whether city leaders act as proper elected representatives and listen to residents and their concerns. I also care whether city acts with fairness when developers and business owners submit proposals to build new structures that could impact the ability of Walnut Creek residents and neighbors to shop and enjoy our downtown.

I think it is inevitable that Neiman Marcus will come to Broadway Plaza.


That is, unless (and this is a very big unless) the economy continues to spiral downward, sales of luxury goods continue to plummet, and Neiman Marcus curtails expansion plans, closes stores, cuts jobs—amd even goes out of business. Actually, one of my valued tipsters alerted me to recent reports that things are not so glittery in Neiman Marcus-land—as perhaps some Walnut Creek Neiman’s boosters would like to assert.

From the St. Petersburg Times in Florida: Neiman Marcus, which cut 375 jobs and delayed new stores for Sarasota and Princeton, N.J., by a year to 2011, reported a January same-store sales decline of 26 percent. As a result the luxe retailer will report the first quarterly loss for a holiday season in its century-long history.

From the Chicago Tribune: “Those who used to think nothing of plunking down a hundred dollars or more for that same Ralph Lauren dress are now restrained by what retailing experts and economists call ‘luxury shame,’ a sense that even if you can still afford it, it's best not to make a show of it. … Among the hardest hit was the luxury goods sector. The Neiman Marcus Group reported a 24.4 percent drop in January sales . … “

It also was reported Monday that Neiman Marcus will cut an additional 450 jobs this week and that salaried employees are taking a pay cut.


Oh, and Seattle-based Nordstrom, which is a strong downtown Walnut Creek retail tenant, isn’t doing too well either, after posting a steep drop—68 percent—in its fourth-quarter profit.

Given such reports about Neiman Marcus’ struggles in the current economic climate, and even the struggles of stalwarts such as Nordstrom, I wonder how much we can really count on Neiman Marcus coming to Walnut Creek, and how much we can count on the economic stability of our city's famed retail scene, despite city leaders' assertion otherwise.


We'll see. As they say, time will tell.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love this opportunity to vent....the only reason we're looking at a smaller version (not small enough) is that the city had no choice! This thing is still much bigger than the General Plan recommended for that corner.

Castle Hill Bill said...

As citizens of Walnut Creek, we should all be outraged that it took the pressure of a petition and lawsuits, sponsored by a private company not based in WC, to get Macerich and the contents of its backpocket aka WC City Council, to work within the rules of our general plan and listen to its residents. I too think that this project could be permanently shelved do to the realities of the economy, however one thing for sure that came out of this is that Skrel & Rainey just don't get it. Pushing through a new library/parking structure project without voter approval and guaranteed funding. Attempting to again go against the rules by trying to push through a project that violates the city general plan for height and parking requirements and then saying it is the only way that NM will locate here. They have been so wrong. They are not worthy of the public trust. Skrel & Rainey need to be gone.

Anonymous said...

"Pushing through a new library"

Yeah, that's disgusting! The nerve of those people to push through a new library.

Barry said...

Macerich is desperate right now. They are struggling as a company. Many vacancies as well as rents that are being reduced. They will accommodate anything as long as they get Nieman as a tenant!

Anonymous said...

Walnut Creek leaders are Broadway Plaza (and Neiman Marcus) bitch