Why would Whole Foods’ new market make Los Alamitos think of moving City Hall?
OC Register, February 19, 2016
LOS ALAMITOS – While this bedroom community might not seem like a hipster hangout, Los Alamitos is slated to become the first city in Orange County to boast a 365 by Whole Foods Market – the upscale grocer’s “new concept” chain that will feature lower prices to lure young adults.
Whole Foods Market recently announced that it has signed an additional five leases for stores – including the one in Los Alamitos – bringing the national total to 13. The grocer will debut its inaugural 365 this spring in Los Angeles.
Anchoring a yet-to-be-developed retail center off Katella Avenue near the 605 Freeway, the market will sit on 9.4 acres adjacent to Los Alamitos City Hall.
And now the developer, Lincoln Properties Inc., is eying the bordering three acres of city land to expand its mall – a purchase that would require city officials to find new space for City Hall, the police department and the community and youth centers.
City Manager Bret Plumlee said Los Alamitos has entered into an “exclusive negotiation agreement” with Lincoln Properties on the smaller parcel.
“We will evaluate all options, including placing the buildings and facilities together or in separate areas,” he said.
In late 2014, Lincoln Properties bought the property from SuperMedia Inc. – seeking to replace the existing office building. Six months later, the developer asked the city to reconsider its General Plan, which had rezoned the property for retail.
In a letter, the developer said a retail center would create a traffic problems and fail to attract an anchor tenant large enough to make the site economically feasible. However, on June 15, council members approved the original General Plan.
Councilwoman Shelley Hasselbrink said she believes the interest shown by Whole Foods proves that the property is, in fact, good for retail.
“They’re excited about coming here,” she said.
Mayor Richard Murphy said moving might, in the long run, save money.
“Our buildings are getting old and need work,” Murphy said. “The improvements would cost a lot of money. It could make more sense financially to relocate.”
Los Alamitos would join another Orange County city in relocating its city hall. La Habra is constructing a new city hall complex across the street from its current building after a novel land swap with a private investor – which will put 72 houses on what was once city property.
“Our current location was built in the 1950s and needed $5 million in upgrades,” said La Habra Councilman Michael Blazey.
Unlike the probable outcome in Los Alamitos, La Habra’s civic center will stay in tact. But Murphy pointed out that other cities such as Seal Beach have offices situated independently rather being in one complex.
“We’re sitting on prime real estate here,” Murphy said. “City offices don’t have to be on a major thoroughfare.”
“The corner of the 605 and Katella is an important gateway to Orange County with nearly 60,000 cars passing City Hall daily,” he said. “It would be an excellent location for retail.”
The civic center abuts Oak Middle School. On nights and weekends, the school’s fields off Oak Street are abuzz with sports events – filling the city parking lots with cars.
Plumlee declined to address potential parking and traffic problems should the space be assumed by a shopping center.
“We will work with Lincoln Properties on these issues,” he said.
Among the mix of “hip” cities chosen by Whole Foods for 365 stores are Portland, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Houston. And of course, Los Alamitos.
Scoring a Whole Foods entity is a coup for the city both in prestige and tax revenue, Plumlee said.
“This type of business would attract other upscale businesses to the project,” he said. “It is a compliment to Los Alamitos to be considered as a location for Whole Foods.”
By Susan Christian Goulding