A call to tear down a zombie mall in downtown San Bernardino that was damaged in a three-alarm blaze has been stymied by a “do-nothing council,” according to its mayor.
The 70-year-old Carousel Mall, which caught fire last month at 295 Carousel Mall, should be demolished, Mayor John Valdivia had told the San Bernardino Sun. The city has talked about redeveloping the 43-acre mall site for years.
But the effort to expedite a demolition of the long-shuttered mall died this month when all but one of his colleagues declined to back his pitch.
“Another example of a do-nothing council,” Valdivia said in response. Without support, the demolition motion won’t be brought again before the City Council.
Valdivia called the Carousel Mall “a health and safety hazard for the community” in the wake of the May 15 blaze, and encouraged his colleagues to speed up the demolition process to prevent future incidents.
Demolishing the Carousel Mall is part of a Disposition and Development Agreement, or DDA, presently being negotiated between the city and the team tasked with redeveloping the site, City Manager Rob Field told council members. It isn’t clear when that deal will be done.
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 downtown hub with a walkable district with river paths, green roof-top buildings and thousands of trees.
Beyond the mall, the firms aimed to incorporate other downtown areas into an expanded redevelopment project.
Then fires started breaking out at the vacant property. In recent months, San Bernardino County fire crews have lately responded to two to three small fires a week. The three-alarm blaze that broke out last month caused damage to units on the east side of the mall.
“I have been steadfast and focused to make sure the mall gets demolished,” Valdivia said after the latest incident. “The City Council must move forward expeditiously and quickly to demolish the Carousel Mall.”
Valdivia, who is up for reelection in the primary held on June 7, has called his colleagues “a do-nothing council” in interviews, official memos and public statements, touching a nerve with other elected officials. Without naming Valdivia specifically, Councilman Damon Alexander took umbrage.
“Some candidates have called this council a ‘do-nothing council’ more than once,” Alexander said from the dais. “We are a bunch of hard-working individuals and this is the best council that’s been around that I’ve observed for a while, and we are moving this city forward.”
While San Bernardino stalls on redeveloping its aging. mall, other Inland Empire communities are pressing ahead. Last month, nearby Redlands unanimously approved replacing its derelict mall with a 173,000-square-foot shopping, restaurant and housing village.
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