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New housing development proposed at site of former Fallas store in Santa Maria

Fallas Santa Maria
The building that formerly housed Fallas Discount Store in Santa Maria sits unoccupied Wednesday morning. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A mixed-used development is being proposed at the site of the former Fallas Discount Store in downtown Santa Maria.

Santa Barbara-based The Vernon Group is planning to remodel the building and create housing units inside the 72,00 square foot structure.

"We're proposing to basically bring in a lot of multi-family (units)," said Brett Vernon, The Vernon Group President. "We're looking at doingo studio loft apartments. We're using the existing structure, so we're doing what's called adaptive reuse to basically use the existing structure, change the facade and make it a better looking building and provide about 104 residential lofts here that are going to be anywhere from a loft studio apartment to about a two-and-a-half bedroom apartment."

Vernon added the transformational development would help "activate" the vital area around the downtown core.

"We want this to become a spot," said Vernon. "They come and celebrate Santa Maria and they're excited to come to. It's the city center. It really is. It's Main and Broadway. You need to bring people in and one of the best ways to bring people in is to put housing there, and then you're going to do commercial and different uses down on the ground floor and by having those different uses, you have people coming and going at different times."

The Santa Maria Downtown Revitalization Committee recently reviewed the development proposal during the initial phase of potential city approval.

"We understand that for downtown to be a destination, you need commercial uses, you need shops, you need entertainment, and you probably need civic and cultural uses, but housing is a component to that, so this is a proposed housing use," said Chuen Ng, Santa Maria Community Development Director.

Artist renderings of the proposed Fallas building redevelopment show a dramatically different look for the two-story structure.

"They'll see a brand new facade, a lot of windows and decks," said Vernon. "We're looking at possibly doing a little roof deck, a little public roof deck on top. What you're going to see is a fresh new look. It's going to have a modern Spanish style and a lot of glass and a lot of people kind of coming and going and really activate the area."

While the potential redevelopment of the old Fallas site is certainly a significant step in the revitalization of the downtown Santa Maria, Vernon pointed out it's actually just one component of a much larger vision.

The Vernon Group is planning to build additional mixed-use developments on three of the four corners at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street.

"We're proposing approximately 600 units and approximately 40,000 feet of commercial coming in," said Vernon. "Really building some plazas and paseos that people can hang out and really create a sense of place. Ultimately, it's possibility going to be a hotel, a lot of restaurants, a lot of local talent. Looking at revitalizing an area to do the Downtown Fridays. Looking at a better area for the farmer's market and just a people friendly area is what we want to create."

Potential redevelopment includes sites at Perlman Park, the Boot Barn property, land adjacent to Bank of America and a city-owned parking lot along Lincoln and Church streets.

"We're looking at having it as something that if you drive by and look at, you want to go hang out in there," said Vernon. "If this whole thing comes to fruition, it's going to be this really cool, big modern, almost case study of reactivating a city center."

The next phase of the project is to formally submit a plan to the city and then a Planning Commission review.

Ultimately, City Council will vote on final approval of the project at an unknown date.

"We're eager," said Ng. "We're excited. I think there's an urgency for downtown redevelopment and to see plans for development, that's exciting for us."

Vernon is hoping to have final approval from City Council within a couple of months. He said a goal would be to break ground on the Fallas building redevelopment within a year and to have the entire master plan around the downtown area completed within five years.

In the meantime, Vernon added the Fallas building has been leased to Halloween City, which will occupy it for several weeks leading up to Halloween.

After eight years in operation, Fallas closed earlier this year. Previously, the building sat vacant for years following the closure of Mervyn's, which occupied it for many years.

The site is located Town Center West, in the heart of downtown Santa Maria, along Broadway and Cook Street.

The proposed redevelopment of the Fallas site does not include the rest of the Town Center West shopping center, which includes Rite Aid, Big 5 Sporting Goods and many other locally-owned businesses.

"The adjacent shopping center, that's not part of this project, but it's adjacent to it and we hope it will benefit from the new housing project," said Ng. "We would expect a new development on Town Center West for all of the adjacent businesses to benefit from it."

Article Topic Follows: Business Matters

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Dave Alley

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