Super King key to rejuvenated shopping center

From bereft to bustling, the Claremont Promenade at Auto Center Drive 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.

A hub of economic success in the city of Claremont—driving in an estimated $16 million in sales tax since it opened in 1986—Auto Center Drive has become much more than the cluster of auto dealerships from whence it drew its name.

City officials look to mimic the success of the revitalized shopping center as they now focus on filling the Peppertree Square shopping center down the street.

While Norms proved an important addition to Promenade, and certainly gave the center a couple extra double-takes with its 50-foot glowing orange sign, the opening of the Super King grocery store in late 2011 proved to be particularly fortuitous. In the past 18 months, more than 11 businesses have come to call the Auto Center mini-mall home, from dentist offices to dining destinations.

“Business begets business,” said Claremont Mayor Opanyi Nasiali. “For Auto Center Drive, Super King really became the catalyst that influenced the kind of activity we are seeing at that center today. That’s what we need for the Peppertree center, an anchor that is going to become a magnet.”

Abdallah Soueidan, owner of Al Amir Flatbrea (which opened in April) admits it was because of the Super King he sought a spot for his restaurant within the center. For George Ghaby of Rounds Burgers, it was all about the locale.

“It’s a great location, right off the freeway,” Mr. Ghaby said.

Locals take equal pleasure in the prime location of some of their favorite Claremont haunts, including the aforementioned burger joint, Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine, Waba Grill and Super King. One customer was so moved by Claremont’s international grocer, he wrote a song in its honor and posted it online.

But the center’s prime position along the 10 freeway hasn’t always spelled success. Trouble brewed for the south Claremont complex when the previous owner filed for bankruptcy, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development. Plans to renovate the Promenade went sour as tenants, unable to weather the construction, began pulling out of the center or closing up shop altogether.                

While business has come and gone over the years, the thriving center took a sharp downturn with the pullout of Builders Emporium and later the Albertsons grocery store in 2007, leaving the center without an anchor and without the driving force to keep business booming, Mr. Desatnik recognized.

When LBG Real Estate Companies, LLC purchased the defaulted property in June 2010, the center had been left in a state of disrepair. The complex had been left 14 percent vacant and with only 30 percent of its renovations complete, according to the company’s managing partner Doug Beiswenger.

But the developer had a plan. By redrawing the plans and design for Auto Center, and refocusing efforts on finding a solid anchor store, the private shopping center developer set to work. Booking Super King less than a year later provided the resurgence they sought.

“Super King served as the driver here,” Mr. Desatnik said. “Once [the complex owners] got that major tenant in there, it has kept bringing in new businesses.”

Business began booming. Sales tax skyrocketed from $37,315 generated between April 2010-March 2011 to $84,750 from April 2011-March 30, 2012. Today, Auto Center is at 97 percent capacity and growing, Mr. Beiswenger affirms. And Super King has been the marketplace’s biggest draw. Though the market does not report their sales, Mr. Beiswenger did say that Super King has brought in more than double the sales of a typical grocery store like Albertsons.

The shopping center in general has brought in more than its share of cash flow to help Claremont bolster its economic success, too. In 2011, former City Manager Jeff Parker estimated that Super King alone could generate about $60,000 in sales tax. While city officials would not disclose the actual amount of sales tax generated because of “confidentiality laws,” Finance Director Adam Pirrie did note that sales tax is surging, thanks to recovered auto sales and new businesses like Super King and Norms.

As business advances throughout the city, Claremont’s sales tax continues its steady upward climb. In 2010-11, the city of Claremont generated $2.6 million in sales tax, according to Mr. Pirrie. The following year it was $3.2 million, and Mr. Pirrie projects that this year’s number may fall around $3.6 million.

“New businesses in the Auto Center Drive…have been significant contributors to the growth in revenues we have seen,” Mr. Pirrie said.

Claremont officials hope other developments catch on to the Promenade’s success.

“You go in [the center] and it’s always packed, not only with people from south Claremont, but from all over,” Mr. Desatnik said. “It’s more than just a neighborhood shopping center.”

—Beth Hartnett


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