Diversifying Redevelopment with a Distinct Japanese Flavor

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An artist’s rendering of the new Mitsuwa Marketplace that will open up at Heritage Plaza in Irvine in November.

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By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Contributor

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Located on one of the busiest intersections in the city of Irvine, Heritage Plaza has been providing the local community with shopping, dining and services for the past 30 years.

Despite a long history of success, a much needed, community-focused redevelopment of the plaza went into effect in February, coinciding with the city’s project to widen the adjacent Culver Drive. The enhancement of the center signifies the sort of innovative thinking that influenced CNN Money to last year rank Irvine among America’s top 25 cities.

Owned by Regency Centers, the leading national owner, operator and developer of grocery-anchored and community shopping centers, Heritage Plaza’s $10 million redevelopment is scheduled to be completed in November. The transformation features a Southern California Main Street architectural style that blends with the surrounding neighborhood.

Designed by Nadel Architects and Hirsch & Associates Inc., the redevelopment includes focused gathering areas with benches and al fresco dining, complete with lush garden areas and decorative trellises.

In addition to upgrading and modernizing the physical properties of the center, Regency focused its efforts in addressing the city’s demographic shift to a growing Asian population.

When Heritage Plaza was initially constructed in 1980, Irvine was made up of middle-to-upper-class Caucasians comprising more than 80 percent of its population. Sprinkled throughout were a few pockets of Asians — mostly Japanese American strawberry farmers and early Chinese immigrants — who made up a paltry 7.7 percent of the city’s residents.

Three decades later, that ratio has changed radically. According to the 2010 Census, of Irvine’s 212,375 residents, 39 percent are of Asian ethnic backgrounds. Nearly 8 percent of those are Japanese, 33 percent Chinese, and 22 percent Korean. Juxtaposed, the city’s white population now stands at only a shade north of 50 percent.

In fact, Irvine’s demographic shift is a microcosm of Orange County as a whole. The county’s Asian population grew to 39 percent over the past decade, placing it third among counties across the country. But widen the scope, and the growth is not nearly as dramatic. While home to the nation’s largest population of Asians and Asian Americans, California has seen only a steady increase from 6.6 percent to 12.8 percent over the past three decades.

The rapid growth of the Asian demographic in Irvine has roots in the city’s history as a conservative suburb. Irvine remains a destination for Asian American professionals and families due to the attractive nature of high-quality schools, low crime and well-paying jobs.

For fourth- and fifth-generation Asian Americans, whose parents and grandparents worked hard to provide them with the discipline, motivation and education necessary to succeed, upper-class suburbia is the ultimate realization of that legacy. On the other hand, newly arriving Asians in Irvine tend to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics with the language skills and money that many traditional immigrants don’t have.

Regency Centers has wholly embraced this demographic blending. After a great deal of research, Regency chose to lease 13,853 square feet of the center’s retail space to Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace. As a complementary junior anchor to Ralphs, the Japanese market is scheduled to open in fall 2011, inhabiting what was formerly an Ace Hardware.

“We believe that the addition of Mitsuwa will spark new interest while helping to maintain 30 years of success at Heritage Plaza,” said Gregg Sadowsky, Regency Center’s senior vice president and regional officer. “We partnered with the community to determine a tailored merchandising plan that meets its need for a convenient shopping destination offering a complementary mix of options, including grocery stores, restaurants and retail.”

As the nation’s largest Japanese supermarket chain, Mitsuwa’s authentic Japanese produce, meat and baked goods are products not readily available to the community. The next nearest Mitsuwa is nearly 10 miles away.

The market’s food court, featuring Japanese comfort food like soba, ramen, and pork cutlet, will mix into the melting pot of flavors already enjoyed at Heritage Plaza. From stuffed carne asada burritos at Super Mex, to spicy tofu soup at Dae Myoung Ok, to lox on a freshly baked onion roll at East Coast Bagel, Heritage Plaza offers a dazzling array of cuisine from around the world that reflects the ever-changing makeup of the surrounding community.

According to Sadowsky, center redevelopments benefit the surrounding community by bringing in new tenants like Mitsuwa. Picking the right tenant that will fit well with the center is crucial. Thus, Regency hired Consensus Inc. to host a pair of focus groups with customers and local neighborhood associations to learn from and address the community’s opinions and concerns.

When queried on suggested stores, participants requested stores with character that would give the center “personality” and reflect the multicultural neighborhood.

Much of the feedback Regency gathered has been implemented into the center’s overall redesign. The architecture will utilize stone and wood finishes providing texture and earth tones to complement the aesthetics of the neighboring area. Signage has been improved and the cumbersome overhangs and pillars have been removed to improve visibility.

As part of its “greengenuity” practices, Regency’s commitment to ecological responsibility, the renovation will add more than 200 trees consistent with the region’s natural vegetation, drought-resistant landscaping, a smart irrigation system that automatically monitors and adjusts to climate data, and LED parking lot lighting.

“With the shift in the ethnic makeup of Irvine, it was imperative for us to appropriately reflect the demographic in whatever redevelopment we undertook,” said Sadowsky. “In the end, our vision is of a vibrant neighborhood locale where a diverse community is able to come together to socialize, dine and relax, and conveniently pick up their daily essentials.”

In whatever flavors they may be.

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Heritage Plaza is located at 14474 Culver Drive in Irvine, and includes national retailers and services such as Ralphs, CVS/pharmacy, Seattle’s Best Coffee, The UPS Store, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wendy’s, RadioShack, Chase, H&R Block, Cold Stone Creamery and Elephant Bar restaurant.

 

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