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Upscale Retail Will Be at Home In UTC’s $600M Expansion

As other local observers have pointed out, the oft-repeated mantra about U.S. retail — “the mall is dead” — has never really applied to the San Diego market.

In the years since the Great Recession, operators of the region’s most popular malls have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in major renovations, bringing in new retailers and converting the properties into indoor-outdoor “lifestyle” centers that emphasize entertainment and socializing, rather than just shopping.

Some of the biggest overhauls have taken place at the properties that were already geared to higher-end demographics, with the upscale/luxury quotient boosted at properties such as Fashion Valley, Del Mar Highlands Town Center and Flower Hill Promenade. These properties and others not only have near-zero vacancies, but long waiting lists of retailers and restaurants eager to get in.

The luxury factor is especially driven home in the nearly finished expansion at Westfield UTC, with a project value that operator Westfield Corp. recently announced would reach $600 million by the time it’s completed and opened this October.

The previously announced “valet arrival lounge” was one clue, and the just-announced slate of incoming national and regional tenants, some of them making their local debuts, indicates that San Diego itself has arrived as a luxury market. For several years, some of these retailers were seen only in larger “gateway” markets like New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the retail rents in prime spots are even higher than San Diego’s.

The UTC mall’s first-time-San Diego arrivals will include clothing sellers Vineyard Vines, Marine Layer, Rodd & Gunn, UntuckIt and SuitSupply. Fragrance seller Jo Malone London will open its first local stand-alone boutique, and CJ Charles, a boutique selling jewelry and watches, will be opening its second San Diego store.

The tenant roster will also include skin care and cosmetics retailers Origins, Saje Natural Wellness and MAC Cosmetics. Also coming to Westfield UTC are jewelry and accessories retailers Fossil, Kendra Scott, Swarovski and Sundance, along with footwear brand Ecco.

Arhaus, which sells luxury hand-crafted furniture, will join a number of other furnishings and housewares retailers already at the mall, including Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and Pirch. Room & Board, another high-end furnishings retailer, plans to open its previously announced new store in late summer of this year.

New restaurant arrivals will include Larsen’s Steakhouse, bistro-style restaurant Bazille, and San Diego-based Napizza. Other major changes include a mall addition that will house a relocated Nordstrom, a new five-level parking structure and new water features.

While timetables have not been set, the city previously has approved elements for future phases of mixed-use elements at the 40-year-old Westfield UTC property, including offices and more than 300 luxury apartments.

All the luxury talk is not to say that this mall doesn’t already offer something for everybody, or to say that it’s overlooking the needs of shoppers who aren’t dropping by from nearby La Jolla. In fact, Westfield UTC will be the terminus of the ongoing Mid-Coast Trolley extension project, with a next-door station that will likely bring in a wider base of customers from throughout the city when it’s completed.

But the mall’s Sears store will be closing soon, and for now at least, this is not the place to find a Target or those “off price” retailers that have seen the biggest nationwide growth in the post-recession period, such as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less.

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