During the 1970’s the Redlands mayor decided the historic downtown area was broken and he knew just how to solve the problem. His solution was to build a mall as was being done in many other communities at that time. Powerful state laws allowing “redevelopment” were in effect and the mayor used that weapon to take a wrecking ball to all the many commercial buildings west of Orange Street and build the Redlands Mall.
The Redlands Mall had problems from the outset. It was considerably smaller than other enclosed malls built about the same time, such as Riverside’s Tyler Mall and the two malls in San Bernardino. Three different tenants operated in the anchor space at the west end of the mall; all three failed in that location.
Today enclosed malls are not what business owners and their customers want. Virtually all retail sales in the Redlands area occur in the freestanding structures north of the freeway (the Donut Hole).
The former mayor did not want a grocery store in the smaller anchor space in the east end of the mall. Yet several groceries have successfully prevailed as the east end anchor and remain successful to this day.
What about the building itself?
The mall building itself is a concrete block structure which lacks character or architectural interest. However, it is very well built and could likely last thousands of years. The mall has over 900 parking spaces plus the large underground parking. The interior has vast open spaces and very high ceilings which would allow non-bearing interior modifications. Using non-bearing walls would be an inexpensive way to transform all or part of the mall into virtually any other type of non-residential use.
Like the earlier mayor, the present mayor has ideas about how to level the mostly vacant mall and replace it with other improvements. Over the past ten years several firms have owned the mall, yet none have taken any action to make the vacant areas a viable part of downtown Redlands.
Part of the problem is that tearing down the mall and hauling it to the landfill one dump truck load at a time would be extremely expensive. More importantly, a developer needs to have a “commercially viable” end product to be able to finance and build the replacement improvements. Isn’t it time to explore “commercially viable” solutions?