The Village Center shopping plaza in Stanton along Beach Boulevard stood for years as a tattered testament to the Great Recession’s fallout. Acapulco’s, the last remaining restaurant, shuttered two years ago leaving in its wake abandoned storefronts giving the place an eerie vibe reminiscent of the ghost town of Ambrose from House of Wax. In the meantime, blue banners hung from fenced-off enclosures ironically invited people to shop and dine in Stanton while trying to cover up the blighted sight.
The only real signs of life at Village Center of late came courtesy of a busy Department of Motor Vehicles office stationed there. Stanton’s strip of Beach Boulevard seemed to be in an irredeemable slump, especially when even the legendary Mad Greek restaurant just down the street from Village Center closed down not too long ago. But a reversal of fortunes may be in store with new developers finally ready to revive the shopping center with commercial and residential projects. Demolition is already underway.
“The economic impact to Stanton was similar to any commercial vacancy; there is a reduction in sales tax revenue and fewer services for our residents,” says Kelly Hart, Stanton’s community and economic director. “The expected benefits to the city for this project is a revitalized gateway to Stanton, with a prospering commercial center that provides a stable mix of uses for entertainment, meeting the daily needs of our residents, and a high quality residential development that will provide an enhanced streetscape and spur development.”
Stanton took a long road to arrive to the much anticipated moment. City manager reports dating back to January 2015 note staff frustration with a lack of progress in revitalizing Village Center. By late 2016, Shappell Properties, which previously owned the plaza, began negotiations to sell the 22-acre site. Frontier Real Estate Investments acquired the property in March 2017. In addition to Frontier’s commercial plans, Brookfield Homes Southern California also acquired the north end of Village Center for a 208-unit condominium project.
Stanton’s planning commission approved the commercial phase back in March. City council followed by approving Brookfield’s condos in June.
Since a few acres on the south side of Village Center fall within Garden Grove, the developer and representatives from both cities had to get on the same page with differing codes, regulations and flaps over parcel maps. Things even got a little testy with regards to Stanton’s perceived reputation during a meeting between Garden Grove senior planner Lee Marino and a Frontier representative. “Please know I thought it was extremely arrogant and frankly disparaging to the City of Stanton when Lee made the comment that this was basically a nothing project to [Garden Grove] but a big deal to Stanton,” Dan Almquist, a managing partner at Frontier REI, wrote to Lisa Kim, Garden Grove’s community and economic development director, in an email obtained by the Weekly. Marino later apologized.
“I realized after the meeting that what I said was probably taken wrong,” Marino wrote. “Just so you know, I do think your project will be a good project for both cities since, it will be cleaning up a blighted property and bringing in good tenants in the process.” All hard feelings aside, Garden Grove approved the commercial development and the bulldozers are already busy at work clearing out the city’s slice of Village Center, including tearing down Kim’s Piano which already moved to Tustin (Sorry, Hanmi Piano: There won’t be dueling piano stores across from each other on Garden Grove Boulevard anymore).
So far, Frontier has secured agreements to bring In-N-Out, Raising Cane’s, Panda Express, Chase Bank, Planet Fitness and Grocery Outlet to Village Center. They’re hoping to attract more businesses into the fold and have plans for a food court. The DMV will stay through its lease which ends late next year. That’s when condo construction will take over. Not too shabby for a barren plaza in shambles that could only count 40 percent occupancy in 2015, a figure that further plummeted down to 10 percent last year with Orange County Hydroponics holding the fort from its nook hidden from street view.
Before being gutted by the Great Recession, Village Center stayed fairly stable throughout its history beginning in the 1980’s. It played host to several restaurants like Red Robin, Mimi’s Cafe and Acapulco’s in addition to an Edwards movie theater that my late abuela once dubbed “el chicloso” for its soda-stained sticky floors. But then a Ralph’s grocery store left Village Center and numerous small businesses followed. The restaurants that once thrived with diners later turned into the abandoned buildings that are now being demolished for Village Center’s revival.
Driving down Beach in Stanton will begin to look a whole lot different in the future in more ways than one. The city brought in Hiccups restaurant and Churroholic, a duo of businesses that have established a strong clientele base in West Anaheim, to anchor the corner of Beach and Orangewood Avenue. Most important of all along Highway 39 is Village Center being brought back from the dead.
“Village Center is the largest development opportunity in Stanton,” says Hart. “The city is in a bit of a renaissance with all of the recent development activity.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.