Change blowing through City of Trees

Hello and goodbye are more than just formalities. They speak to a year’s worth of notable changes in the City of Trees. Like in years past, 2013 brought with it a mixed bag. Locals reluctantly bid farewell to longtime local staples like the Claremont Golf Course and the Strawberry Patch, and a rise in commercial crime caused serious concern. However, not all of the headlines were heavy. Here’s a look back at 2013’s most notable adieus and rewarding welcomes.

City says hello to much-anticipated Peppertree Square upgrade

Claremont residents and tenants were pleased to bid farewell to the old Peppertree Square shopping center last February as construction crews moved in to give the dilapidated complex a much-needed new look.

Plans for the revitalization of Peppertree began several years ago with a Walgreen’s Pharmacy slated for occupancy within the center. Soon after, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market also signed on to the project. Plans began to fizzle in spring 2010, however, when Walgreen’s pulled out of the deal. Two years later, Fresh & Easy also reversed its decision to move in to the south Claremont complex.

Lack of an anchor store did nothing to halt renovation plans despite concerns. Construction crews completed work on the new Peppertree Square facade in June, much to the delight of locals and tenants. They hope an anchor store, preferably a market, is not far behind.

Retail renaissance at Auto Center Drive

From bereft to bustling, the Claremont Promenade, or Auto Center Drive shopping complex, is a far cry from the floundering center it was considered just a few years ago. The only complaint now comes with trying to find a parking space.

Auto Center Drive has become a hub of economic success in the city of Claremont, driving in an estimated $16 million in sales tax since it opened in 1986. City officials look to mimic the success of the revitalized shopping center as they focus on filling vacancies at Peppertree.

The center’s prime position along the 10 highway hasn’t always spelled success. After the previous owner filed bankruptcy, plans to renovate the promenade went sour and tenants, unable to weather the construction, began leaving the center or closing up shop altogether. LBG Real Estate Companies saved the day in June 2010, purchasing the promenade and refocusing efforts on finding a solid anchor store that would attract other business.

The center has since become much more than the cluster of auto dealerships from whence it draws its name. While Norms proved an important addition to the promenade, the opening of the Super King grocery store in late 2011 proved to be particularly fortuitous. Since July 2013, more than 11 businesses have come to call the Auto Center mini-mall home, from dentist offices to dining destinations. Today the center is at 97 percent capacity and growing.

“Super King really became the catalyst that influenced the kind of activity we are seeing at that center today,” said Mayor Opanyi Nasiali in a previous interview with the COURIER. “That’s what we need for the Peppertree center, an anchor that is going to become a magnet.”

Claremont receives unwelcome uptick in commercial burglary

Claremont residents aren’t known to sit idle, and 2013 was no different. When an increase in commercial crime hit the city of Claremont this year, residents were spurred into action. Targeted businesses included Rincon Azteca and the Claremont Heights Post Office in the Vons Shopping Center; Wolfe’s Market, Coates Cyclery and Inka Trails along Foothill Boulevard; Last Drop Cafe and Sonja Stump Photography in the Claremont Village; and the Smoke Shop in the Auto Center Drive complex. In many of these cases, burglars entered the businesses by smashing a front window and making off with the company’s cash register.

More than 50 local proprietors gathered at the Claremont Chamber in April to take matters into their own hands. An educational forum with Claremont police provided business owners with the tools they needed to prevent crime. While the commercial smash-and-grab burglaries are not yet a thing of the past, businesses continue to band together through the Claremont Chamber’s “Business Watch,” staying vigil to keep crimes out of Claremont’s business centers.

Despite devastation, academics welcome new possibilities

The city was sent into a tailspin on September 13 when a quick moving fire destroyed 17 acres of the Bernard Field Station, an academic resource for the Claremont Colleges and local community for the last 33 years. Passersby gathered to watch the spectacle as first responders descended upon the Foothill Boulevard institution in record time to distinguish flames and keep damages at bay.

Despite the perceived devastation, however, Claremont Colleges’ academics found opportunity amid the ruins. Academics have inundated the local field station in the months following the fire, eager to take advantage of the opportunity to study in Claremont’s new fire ecology.

“What the students in Claremont and faculty members have the chance to do is not just tell us about what happens here [at the Bernard Field Station], but about the whole ecosystem across the world,” said Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis Program at Pomona College. “This is really an unparalleled opportunity.”

Golfers say ‘so long’ to local green

Golfers paid their respects to the Claremont Golf Course with a last round of golf over the Thanksgiving holiday. On December 1, 2013, the course activity came to a halt for good. 

The golf course’s board of directors announced the course’s closure in early September, after an independent audit confirmed the facility’s financial operations were no longer operable and “would soon run out.” Since that time, revenue has decreased even further than expected, according to board members.

It is unknown what will become of the nine-hole course. The Claremont University Consortium, who manages the college-owned community space on behalf of the colleges, has been unresponsive to requests for comment on the future of the space, whether they would consider selling the course to an interested buyer or hold a community forum to address future possibilities. The land used for the Claremont Golf Course, which operates under a conditional-use permit from the city, is currently designated as educational zoning, golf course manager Dennis Bishop noted in a previous conversation with the COURIER.

City says goodbye to strawberry patch, open space

The pick-up of the economy has been evident in Claremont this year as several housing developments, many of which have been in the works for years, finally made their move forward.

Claremonters will see vacant land starting to vanish in 2014 as six different developers advance with housing developments that include approximately 694 new housing units, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development. A majority will be attached townhome units, only 114 are listed as detached single-family homes.

This has meant some changes to the Claremont landscape. Locals will no longer be visiting the strawberry patch at Towne and Base Line as developer Taylor Morrison builds out the 6-acre parcel of land with townhomes and a potential retail center. Thanks to Councilmember Corey Calaycay, however, the strawberries will not be completely uprooted from Claremont. The owner of the patch has been growing his prized berries on the Calaycay property for the past two years and continues to sell at the Methodist Church in La Verne.

Claremont is indeed changing, but residents have played a crucial role in keeping Claremont officials accountable to the character of their beloved city. Commission and council meetings have been inundated with residents, who have successfully helped keep a 60-foot sign from being erected near Towne and Base Line, kept several historic stone structures intact and made sure that developments are congruent with surrounding neighborhoods. Their work is far from over, however. Residents have a busy year ahead with more development on the horizon in 2014.  

—Beth Hartnett



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