Quite a few eyebrows have been raised at the development of Pacific City, a 191,100-square-foot retail, restaurant, residential and boutique hotel community located just south of First Street along Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. Banners strung along the fence encompassing the large dirt expanse advertised the project as early as last summer, and in September 23, 2013, the DJM Capital Partners, Inc., development team broke ground. They also may have broken a few hearts in the process. Worry concerning the project's mission, impact on the downtown area and possible regurgitation of HB's Bella Terra has been a popular reaction among locals and small business owners.
Driving slowly along a dirt path toward the DJM leasing bungalow, we glance to our right at construction crews busily laying out the foundation for Pacific City's underground parking structure. Beyond the action, the Pacific Ocean glimmers its hello. Approaching the bungalow, we admire wooden planters teaming with succulents—a nice, sustainable touch to the landscaping. A row of wooden patio tables with navy blue umbrellas stare out at the priceless ocean view, and for a moment we're certain we're in the wrong place. After cautiously entering the temporary structure, we're fully convinced we've made a mistake. A woman pops her head out through another door and waves us in. Turns out we're not trespassing into someone's chic pad. We've simply entered the show room of the Pacific City vision.
Sitting down with four women intimately involved with the project, we are awarded the chance to pick the brains of DJM's Linda Berman and Brittany Schoff, along with Kitchen Table Marketing + PR's Cristen Stapp and Carrie Williams—all native to Southern California. Stepping back to take in the room, we quickly absorb its "coastal cool" vibe—rustic nautical and surf items carefully curated and placed around the bright, airy space. A colorful wooden foosball table steals our attention, as do surfboards, various other woodworks and framed moments in the water. Berman, a HB native and DJM's Senior Vice President of Strategy Communications and Executive Project Director, explains that in order to best detail the vibe they want to build, they need to be able to show it.
We begin by discussing the Pacific City mission, which we learn is not to reinvent Main Street. Instead, the goal centers on inventing a hip, inviting, authentic, dog-friendly, communal hub where locals and visitors can hang out, eat out, shop and even live. The creation of outdoor hang out spaces will gift the downtown area something that DJM feels is lacking: a relaxing environment off the sand (but with a pristine view of it) where people can gather around fire pits, foosball tables, pingpong tables and an outdoor movie screen and enjoy our sunny weather. Surfers who shred near the pier nowadays many times retreat to Main Street to refuel, but Pacific City will exist as a slightly southern option for the salty surfer seeking a seat, a sip and/or a snack. Anchoring the project is an unimpeded view of the ocean, one that impacts nearly every decision made by developers.
"I think that if there were a common thread throughout it would be retailers and restauranteurs that have a grasp on where fashion and casual lifestyle come together," says Berman of Pacific City, which the group refers to as the "epicenter of the Southern California lifestyle." She adds, "We're decidedly not doing a collection of surf shops. We're not doing an upgraded Main Street. That was an opportunity, but we didn't feel that was the best opportunity, and it wasn't the most interesting to us. At the same time we were not trying to be South Coast Plaza or Fashion Island either."
Instead, they're hunting for retailers and restauranteurs who hold a strong sense of community and a high level of social responsibility, who are fashion forward and progressive, who have both a local base and broader audience and who are also curatorial in their process. National and international chains will be featured, but so will sophisticated mom-and-pop shops and online retailers looking to open their first brick and mortar. While the group remained mum on who exactly they're considering, Berman did offer this: "We are talking to a very exciting list."
Another list the group is especially excited about—the energy in the room heightens at its mere mention—is Lot 579, an artisanal community conceived by DJM. Heavily influenced by prominent public markets like Seattle's Pike Place Market and San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace, Lot 579 will feature homegrown food vendors and other merchants. Housing local love every day of the week, it's the brick and mortar to our Made in HB Marketplace. The consensus in the room concludes that the subproject is the heart of Pacific City.
The residential and hotel chunks of Pacific City operate under the wings of two separate developers. Irvine-based R.D. Olson Construction and Pacific Hospitality Group are teaming up on the four-star hotel venture, which will not, according to Berman, be a cookie-cutter property or exclusive to hotel guests. UDR, headquartered in Denver with a Newport Beach branch, has taken the reigns for the residential development and is the same mind behind The Residences at Bella Terra. Berman notes that the Pacific City abodes will maintain the same high level of quality but align with the project's unique vision. Recycled lumber from old barns and LED lighting fixtures to reduce energy consumption are two notable sustainable nods to the project's eco-consciousness.
Pacific City landed on DJM's plate by the serving spoon of the city of HB, which has been hunting the perfect project for the unused 31-acre lot for years. The city also rang DJM's bell to help cultivate what is now one of HB's largest and most popular outdoor malls: Bella Terra. The women shudder at the comparison of Pacific City to a mall, hoping that their countless hours of research will attract the local community and fit the bill.
"There's location and then there's birthright," says Bergman. "We've got birthright." Embracing, deconstructing and rebuilding HB's DNA with their own "opportunity analysis" shines the way for the team to invent something truly emblematic of the liberated and youthful SoCal surf culture. Every member of the DJM team has local ties, and they "work from the inside out." We caught proof of the group's affinity with the surf culture via a pair of board shorts drying in the bungalow restroom.
Skepticism surrounding Pacific City stems from some members of the local community resisting expansion of their beloved beach town. Many residents scoffed at the addition of The Strand on Fifth Street, which runs parallel to Main Street just one block north. Michelle Fechtig, owner of One Look Vintage on Fifth, welcomes the addition of more retail options in downtown. "I have no problem with it," says Fechtig. "It just means more popularity and income for the city."
Dick Thorpe, a 40-year HB resident and 36-year owner of Pristine Motorsports on Fifth, tells us, "I, for one, welcome development. It's the future. Nothing ever lasts. Nothing stays the same. So we must welcome it and make the most of it." He also passionately touches upon Pacific City's unquestionable attraction to tourists and the universal duty to respect the beach community. Says Thorpe, "For all of this to work we must all do our part."
Some local businesses, however, have not been so inviting of the Pacific City experience. Johnny's Saloon on Beach Boulevard has publicly questioned alleged rumors concerning the inclusion of chain restaurants and shops at the new space as well as the city's leniency on Pacific City vendors. Says Johnny's on Instagram, "Rumor has it that council members have said they welcome top notch high class restaurants. Rumor has it one of them is a Tilted Kilt. Rumor has it the rest are bog corporate chains. Rumor has it that they will be allowed to operate with zero of the restrictions put on the Family Owned Downtown Restaurant/Bars."
Laughing, Berman says of the alleged lax operation regulations rumor, "That's laughable given how stringent their requirements are for us, and we respect them." She added, "No. That's absolutely not true...Huntington Beach is as strict as any city I've even seen, and that's to be expected." Assistant City Manager Ken Domer confirms that Pacific City "businesses will conform generally to operating restrictions that are called out in the project's conditional use permit and state alcohol regulations." We are working to uncover more information regarding possible operation differences between Pacific City and the Main Street area.
Domer also notes that Pacific City will operate under different development standards than Main Street because of district zoning in the downtown area related to commercial uses. "Pacific City is designed to provide a different retail and dining experience than that of downtown," says Domer, who explains that the city's adopted Downtown Specific Plan "sets forth these requirements but differentiates between 'districts' in order to create unique and identifiable areas of the beachfront."
Downtown HB is portioned out into seven districts. (Is this part four of The Hunger Games?) Main Street and The Strand belong to District 1 "Downtown Core Mixed-Use," while the commercial and 250-room hotel portion of Pacific City belong to District 2 "Visitor-serving Mixed-Use." The residential portion of Pacific City belongs to District 5 "Multi-family Residential" and will house 516 condo units.
Says Domer, "Based on specific items occurring within the Main Street area (District 1) the City Council has amended its regulations and conditioned proposed uses accordingly." The "items" are issues previously brought before City Council that have resulted in amendments. He adds, "For example, there was most recently a concern by residents about the sale of alcohol for offsite consumption, and in response, the City Council recently passed an ordinance prohibiting such sales."
Another community concern is Pacific City's impact on traffic in the downtown area. If the venture lives up to its promises, there will surely be an influx of visitors and residents in the neighborhood. Pointing to five upcoming transportation and pedestrians additions, DJM believes the project's effect on foot and vehicle congestion will be minimal. A new extension of Pacific View Avenue as well as a new parking area with 1,037 stalls will be open to the public, and new signage directing guests to the project, a new pedestrian easement running through the project from Atlantic to PCH and a new pedestrian-friendly sidewalk along First and PCH with a landscape buffer from the street will all be installed.
With construction of the project already underway, Pacific City's tentative opening date is slated for August/September 2015. One of DJM's highest hopes is that their distinct orchestration will engage the local community. "If you don't have the locals, you got it wrong," says Berman, adding, "You need their support, you need their blessing and you need to be respectful that you did your homework."
Interested vendors should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are your thoughts on Pacific City? Tell us below in the comments. We love hearing from you.
UPDATE: Pacific City's grand opening has moved to early November 2015. This story has also been updated to include additional details on the project.