Posh shopping center gets off ground at mall

Construction crews are set to begin work this week on a shopping center designed to be a high-end addition to Vintage Faire Mall.

The Village at Vintage Faire, a collection of 10 stores and two restaurants, all new to the Northern San Joaquin Valley, is scheduled to open for this year's holiday shopping season.

Although mall officials said they are weeks away from revealing the names of the new center's stores and eateries, they said those stores will attract new and regular shoppers.

"These are stores that people are driving out of town to shop in today," said Janice Curtin, Vintage Faire's marketing manager. "We are not building these spaces without specific stores in mind."

The 65,000-square-foot project will occupy what is now parking on the mall's south side, between Gottschalks and Sears, and will provide employment for about 300 people.

Mall officials have not disclosed the cost of the project.

Today, the mall plans to close an entrance-exit in the project area and workers will begin installing fences around the project, temporarily eliminating about 300 parking spaces.

Skip Kuhn, vice president of development for Vintage Faire's owner, Macerich Co., said shoppers mostly will see utility relocation work for the first three months, followed by work on the two restaurants on the village's west end.

Construction of the stores, which will be split by an open-air walkway and water fountains, will begin in earnest this summer. Everything should be open by fall, according to mall officials.

About 175 parking spaces will have been lost when the village is done. Kuhn said that will leave Vintage Faire with about 4,500 parking spaces, still more than the 4,250 spots required under city zoning ordinances.

Vintage Faire officials said they're confident that although the valley's economy is suffering from the housing meltdown, shoppers will be excited to hit stores new to the region.

"I think everyone's really thrilled about the caliber of merchants that are coming," Kuhn said. "We feel this will be a strong addition to the center that will be embraced by customers."

Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said the optimism is well-placed.

"They're trying to capitalize on the present and future population," he said, adding that the housing downturn eventually will turn around.

"When you look at what they're doing over a continuum of time, it's a wise decision and a huge shot in the arm to the existing stores," Bassitt said.

To meet city approval, the mall must add two stoplights at entrances to the mall along Sisk Road.

Kuhn said those lights will be installed and working before the project is completed.

Maria Halstead, the mall's sen-ior property manager, said the mall will undergo a few other small changes while work is ongoing.

A new family bathroom, complete with changing stations and a nursing room, will open this week on the mall's first floor, next to Bath & Body Works.

And the mall is working with the city, Halstead said, to create a turnout for buses to load and unload passengers near Bank of America, outside the mall.

When they unveiled plans for the village, Vintage Faire officials said they hoped it would open by fall of last year. Delays in the city approval process pushed it back.

"It seems as if there were a lot of hurdles, and we've cleared them all," Kuhn said. "Candidly, the city put a lot of attention and focus on this."

As she waited for a mall store to open Saturday morning, Modesto resident Oriana Soto, 17, said she'd like to see new shopping options in the city.

"That's cool," she said of the village idea. Oriana said she'd be most interested in an Old Navy outlet, as well as other stores that carry clothing for people of all sizes.

"I'd hope the stores they have aren't the same as all the other ones around here," she said.

Crews are working on a similar center in Manteca, Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley. The 700,000-square-foot shopping center, with tenants such as J.C. Penney, Best Buy and Bass Pro Shops, is set to open this fall.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.