Mayor wants stake in heart of San Bernardino zombie mall

Call follows fire at 70-year-old Carousel; mixed-use project with up to 3,500 resi units eyed

San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia with Carousel Mall (City of San Bernardino, Google Maps)
San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia with Carousel Mall (City of San Bernardino, Google Maps)

A zombie mall in downtown San Bernardino that was the subject of a three-alarm blaze last weekend should be torn down, the city’s mayor said.

The 70-year-old Carousel Mall, which caught fire Sunday evening at 295 Carousel Mall, should be demolished, Mayor John Valdivia told the San Bernardino Sun. The city has talked about redeveloping the 43-acre mall site for years.

“The Carousel Mall is a hazard now,” Valdivia said in a phone interview. “We need to demolish it ASAP.”

The two-story Carousel Mall, which opened as the Central City Mall in 1972 with 53 stores, including three anchors, closed in August 2017.

Leaders of the Inland Empire city laid out plans to overhaul the property in 2019.

Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group emerged as finalists from a field of nearly a dozen developers vying for a contract to revamp the former gem of the city’s central corridor.

In March 2021, Renaissance and ICO were chosen to redevelop the mall into a mixed-use residential, entertainment, commercial and office development.

Renaissance and ICO proposed converting the Carousel Mall site into a lively downtown hub by creating a walkable district with green roof-top designs with up to 3,500 residential units, with a riverwalk, green roof-top buildings and thousands of trees.

Beyond the mall, the firms aimed to incorporate other downtown areas into an expanded redevelopment project.

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Then fires started breaking out at the ghostly indoor mall.

In recent months, San Bernardino County fire crews have been at the shuttered shopping center responding to two to three small fires a week, city spokesman Jeff Kraus said last month.

The three-alarm blaze that broke out about 7 p.m. Sunday caused damage to units on the east side of the mall, said Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire

Department. It was unknown whether the fire involved a single or multiple areas of ignition. It was knocked down around 9 p.m.
Investigators determined the fire was human-caused, but did not have any suspect information or a possible motive.

Enough is enough, Valdivia said.

“I have been steadfast and focused to make sure the mall gets demolished,” he said. “The City Council must move forward expeditiously and quickly to demolish the Carousel Mall.”
A report issued last year by Coresight Research estimates that a quarter of America’s roughly 1,000 malls will close by 2025. Many are now being converted into housing, retail and offices.

[San Bernardino Sun] – Dana Bartholomew

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