The last project in the re-creation of downtown Anaheim is scheduled to break ground before year’s end. The project will bring about 1,000 full-time residents to a district that has blossomed with private sector offices and government facilities during the last 25 years.

While downtown Anaheim has become a job center for office workers, medical professionals and public employees, downtown is pretty well limited to an 8-to-5 schedule. The new project — about 490 loft apartments and for-sale townhouses — is expected to bring round-the-clock life to downtown, induce retail success, provide density needed for express bus transit, and offer needed housing.

Anaheim’s downtown renewal is one of several ongoing in the cities of Orange County, which has long been considered only a collection of suburbs without centers. Different cities have taken different approaches to downtown redevelopment. Brea created one of the country’s first newfangled instant downtowns (see CP&DR Places, January 1998). Santa Ana is building on a flourishing arts district. Fullerton has dedicated years and resources to retaining its core commercial area. Anaheim, meanwhile, wiped the slate clean and started over.

Downtown was a tired, mostly industrial 100-acre slice of a 2,369-acre redevelopment project area that the city adopted in 1973. Over time, the city applied many items from the redevelopment tool box to downtown: The city acquired the entire 100 acres, demolished buildings, assembled parcels for sale to developers, built infrastructure, placed utility lines underground, erected parking structures and created pleasant streetscapes. A wave of area construction during the late 1970s and early 1980s was followed by an even bigger swell of building during late 1980s and early 1990s, when about 600,000 square feet of office space was built in 8- to 11-story towers, according to Community Development Deputy Director Brad Hobson.

“From the commercial development perspective, it really was starting over with the downtown area,” he said. Today, about 13,800 people work in approximately 1 million square feet of downtown office space, which has a relatively low vacancy rate of about 7%.

While the city started over with the commercial core, it has worked to preserve the historic residential neighborhoods right around downtown, known as the Anaheim Colony Historic District. Residents, the city and a consultant, The Planning Center, have worked on design guidelines intended to meld new and old. And those guidelines — plus extensive community input — have helped shape the final project in downtown.

City officials and the CIM Group are planning for a 6-acre development of about 490 housing units and 60,000 square feet of retail development. Some of the structures will have a 1920s and 1930s feel to them, with brick warehouse characteristics. The bulk of the units will be loft-style apartments above ground-floor retail.

Mary Anderson, CIM Group project director, said the city has “set the stage” for the development by providing some retail and extensive streetscape work, especially along the pedestrian-friendly Center Street Promenade, which splits the CIM project site.
Downtown lacks multi-family housing, and the project is being designed for people attracted to an urban environment, whom Anderson described as mostly young professionals and empty nest couples.

“It’s a very concentrated area, and this will provide pressure for retail services,” Anderson said. “It’s all about vitality.”

Indeed, Hobson said the CIM project “gets that critical mass that we’ve been working toward all these years.”

The city and CIM expect the retail component will fill with businesses that serve downtown residents and workers, creating more of a full-time urban environment. Anderson said restaurants, which are few downtown, have shown interest in the project.

While the CIM project will help complete the downtown, the city and developers John Laing Homes and Brookfield Homes are working on about 800 units of infill housing in the adjacent historic district. Those units, which are higher density than the older homes, help create a better link between the well-preserved residential neighborhoods and the commercial core, said Brian Judd, project manager with The Planning Center.

While the CIM project will essentially complete downtown redevelopment, the city will continue to receive tax increment through 2018. The larger district, which contains other areas still available for development, generated total revenues of $29.3 million, including $22.9 million of property tax increment, during the 2001-02 fiscal year, according to the State Controller’s Office. By far the largest expense was $10.7 million of debt service.

Hobson believes downtown Anaheim is realizing success because it has stayed with the approach established during the 1970s.

“Councils over the decades have really stuck with that overall strategy,” he said. “Projects come and go, but the overall vision, as long as it remains consistent, will pay off.”

Downtown Anaheim’s largest employers

Company: Employees
SBC Communications 3,200
City of Anaheim 2,875
Alstyle Apparel 1,500
Anaheim Memorial Hospital 900
CKE Restaurants 700
Interstate Electronics 600
3-Day Blinds 550
RSI Home Products 550
Western Medical Center 400
Anaheim City School District 318

Brad Hobson, City of Anaheim, (714) 765-4319.
Mary Anderson, CIM Group, (323) 860-4929.
Brian Judd, The Planning Center, (714) 966-9220.