City evaluates plan after market backs out of Peppertree (updated)

As the city of Claremont’s Village West takes one step forward with proposed new development, officials are taking necessary preparations to help the city’s Peppertree Square with an unanticipated step backward.

A Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market expected to anchor the soon-to-be-renovated shopping center announced late last week that it is halting plans for a new location in Claremont. City officials were notified, although specific reasons were not given.

“It was just not an appropriate location for them,” stated Claremont’s City Manager Tony Ramos.

Despite the setback, the center’s owner, who lives in China, said he plans to move forward with redevelopment as scheduled, according to Mr. Ramos. An empty space for a future market will be incorporated into the center’s redevelopment design as the project move forward.  

Fresh & Easy’s departure ends several years of development plans between the national grocery chain and the city.

Revitalization of the dilapidated Peppertree Square began in 2008, with a Walgreen’s Pharmacy slated for occupancy within the center. The Planning Commission passed an ordinance in February of 2010 to allow drive throughs at the center in preparation for Walgreen’s arrival and, as a result of the Walgreen’s agreement, Fresh & Easy signed on to the project. Plans began to fizzle in June of 2010 when the pharmacy pulled out of the deal, but Fresh & Easy decided to remain.

While the process has been slow at the center, the Fresh & Easy agreement and the new design plans were approved last summer. Architects Wheeler & Wheeler drew up plans to add Fresh &?Easy’s trademark raised and pointed rooftops to the center’s existing building, and the design plans call for an estimated 10,500-square-foot building for the market.

The lease with the grocery chain was near completion, just awaiting signatures, according to Mr. Ramos in an interview last March. The design had received the necessary approval at both the commission and council level, and preparations were nearly shovel-ready, according to architects on the project.

Though plans were moving along with support from Claremont, Fresh & Easy officials were less certain about the project. According to Brendan Wonnacott, Fresh & Easy’s communication director, the location was simply no longer seen as viable.

“There are a lot of different elements that go into it. We took a look at the existing portfolio and decided this particular site wouldn’t sit going forward,” Mr. Wonnacott said. “We go through a very long process in developing a store and from time to time during that review we have to take a second look at the site.”

The outcome might be a result of declining sales for the market, wrote Mr. Ramos in his latest city manager’s report. Mr. Wonnacott declined to comment on specifics, only adding that Peppertree Square “just wasn’t a site that we thought would work out in the long run.” However, troubles arguably began brewing for the grocery chain in 2010 with the closure of 13 of its stores.

Earlier this year, Fresh & Easy announced 12 more “temporary closures,” 7 of which were in southern California. In both circumstances, Fresh & Easy representatives cited “under-performance” as the reason for closing shop.

Amid the closures, Fresh & Easy spokespeople remained adamant that their plans to open shop in Claremont was still “a go.”

“Claremont fits what we are looking for,” Mr. Wonnacott emphasized in a previous interview with the COURIER.

Plans to move forward with refurbishing the center will continue, according to Mr. Ramos.

“We are looking into alternatives,” Mr. Ramos said.

The owner hopes renovations will help attract new tenants, including the possibility of 2 smaller markets moving into the space that would have been given to Fresh & Easy, Mr. Ramos said. In a 2010 article in the COURIER, the owner made the same committment to renovations, yet little to no visible progress has been made since then.

At that time, Nick Quackenbos, a broker representing the owner of the center, stated that his client was planning to refurbish buildings and remodel the entire center to attract new tenants.

City officials will be meeting with other market options in the coming weeks, though specific names and dates were not given.

—Beth Hartnett


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