Peppertree development moves forward; anchor stores hard to find

More than a year after the city council granted approval for demolition at Claremont’s Peppertree Square, the walls have come tumbling down.

The troubled center’s revitalization, which has sat at the top of the city’s priorities for years, is no longer sitting idle.  Demolition commenced early this week on a front portion of the shopping complex, located at the southeast corner of Arrow Highway and Indian Hill Boulevard. Demolition of the corner building, once home to the likes of Wherehouse Music, began the first step in a series of changes that will be taking place at the center throughout the remainder of 2012 and beyond. A few more permits are needed before further renovations take place, but they should be obtained within the next few weeks, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development.

Though an estimated completion date is unknown at this time, those involved in the project say they are just relieved and pleased to see Phase I of construction finally in action.

“We are moving forward, giving the center a clean look and removing the building that obstructs the interior from view,” said Nick Quackenbos, broker for the owners of Peppertree, who reside in China. “The economy is picking up, albeit slowly, but we are confident that we will get [the center] filled.”

Plans for the revitalization of the Peppertree shopping center 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. Though the project seemed to be moving along accordingly, it soon proved to be the beginning of many frustrations for the city.

Plans began to fizzle in late spring 2010 when Walgreen’s pulled out of the deal. Fresh & Easy maintained its plan to stay in the center, and the center’s redesign with Fresh & Easy as the anchor was approved in July 2011. However, frustrations mounted again when Fresh & Easy pulled out of the nearly shovel-ready project last June as troubles brewed with their corporate office. It was not because of the city of Claremont, emphasized Mr. Quackenbos.

Fresh & Easy’s departure will not hinder the project moving forward or its design, added architect Paul Wheeler.

“We are making it really consumer-friendly,” Mr. Wheeler said. “We are making it ADA accessible, trimming the trees and redoing the parking lot. The merchants down there are very happy.”

As construction moves forward following demolition, Mr. Wheeler will be working on incorporating several new design changes to the shopping center. These additions include adding raised and pointed rooftops as “focal points” to the existing buildings, inspired by the mountainscape to the north.

The color scheme will feature creams and a variety of greens, with added green waving designs inspired by Mr. Wheeler’s view of the Chino Hills behind the shopping center. A covered patio area will be fixed near the set of buildings where Subway resides.

“The whole center is this rough 1970s plaster with blue, and very cold,” Mr. Wheeler said. His plan is to warm it up. “Right now it’s very boxed in. We are going to knock down that [front] building…and every building will have fresh ceramic tiles. It will give the whole center a fresh new look.”

Two large spaces will remain for potential anchors to the center. One is an estimated 18,000 square feet, the other approximately 10,000, but both are flexible depending on the tenant, according to Mr. Quackenbos. He says several markets similar in size to Fresh & Easy and Sprouts have expressed interest, but would not disclose names as nothing has been finalized at this time.

In the months ahead, Mr. Wheeler, Mr. Quackenbos and others will keep busy moving toward the next phase of construction, which includes reconfiguring the parking lot and other renovations. The construction itself will take place in several phases so that current Peppertree businesses are able to keep their doors open to customers, according to Mr. Wheeler.

—Beth Hartnett


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