By Noel Smith
The renovation of the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center is still in the planning stages according to Deb Karbo, Vice President of Development at Safeway’s real estate development subsidiary, Property Development Centers. “We have been listening to the community and have made changes in response to their concerns.”
Safeway has begun a community dialogue about a revised plan for renovating the Rancho del Mar Shopping Center. “We want to assure that residents have direct access to project decision makers,” she said. Karbo will oversee the planning, construction and leasing process. “We are committed to engaging the community to find a scale and shape of the center and the Safeway that is uniquely suited to Aptos.” Before a final project proposal for Rancho del Mar is submitted to Santa Cruz County, there will be many opportunities for public comment and discussion.
Karbo told us, “One of the criticisms of the original plan was that the new Safeway store looked too massive overlooking Soquel Drive. Reducing the footprint of the proposed Safeway store from 60,000 to 55,000 square feet makes it possible to create a new public plaza. A small building was added on the east side of the driveway entrance to the front of Safeway to break up the view of the store from Soquel Drive driving west.”
Another change they made was to move the buildings on the upper level further back from the street. This will provide a pedestrian deck overlooking Soquel Drive, which also can be used by spectators for community events such as The 4th of July, and Aptos Homecoming Parades. The individual retail stores on the upper level will also have space between them which breaks up the façade into smaller shapes.”
The existing Safeway is 34,800 square feet. “We need to fix the Safeway,” said Keith Turner, Director of Public Affairs for Safeway. “ There are problems we cannot solve by simply retrofitting the current store again.”
He said that an updated, full-service Safeway would meet the code requirements and customer expectations of a first class, 21st century grocery store. Safeway envisions a greatly expanded organic section and numerous specialty areas such as a meat department that allows butchers to directly communicate with customers. A larger, more efficient pharmacy will offer a warmer customer experience. The dock and “back room” would be properly sized so that the shelves and produce were more freshly stocked. Customers would shop in wider aisles with disabled access. The check out aisles would be reconfigured for a more expedited check-out.
Another concern many had expressed was that the renovated shopping center would include not only a larger Safeway store but also a big box store. Karbo told us that the current Safeway building would house Aptos Ace Hardware and possibly another current occupant leaving only another 6,000 sq feet to lease. All the other retail spaces that will be available are purposely too small for large retailers.
A third area of unease expressed was about the Safeway gas station. The current two island, eight-pump layout is not sufficient during high traffic times. The proposed layout will be re-oriented east to west with three islands and 18 pumps with entrances and exits to both State Park and Soquel Drives.
The footprint of the renovated shopping center will still be one of many small retail spaces several medium sized spaces and one anchor store — Safeway. The parking area is not one large sea of asphalt but is broken up into smaller areas close to the businesses they serve.
The major driving factor in the redesign of the shopping center into two distinct levels was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The current proposed design meets all the ADA requirements for access. Karbo said that PDC’s biggest hurdle would be the county’s traffic study and the requirements that could be imposed because of it.
“We agree that Rancho Del Mar is a community resource,” said Karbo, “And that it should be flexible enough to accommodate as many local small businesses as practical. That is why we are working to provide Aptos with a diverse and vibrant shopping center that reflects the community in both looks and character. We want our tenants to be vital and stable up to and through the renovation. We are encouraging them to remain in the center while we are working on the plan. They will continue to pay their current rent plus their portion of a recent increase in property taxes.”
Ace Hardware and Aptos Shoes have already negotiated leases in the renovated center. Comerica, Rite Aid and the Sheriff’s office will continue under their existing leases. Eric’s Deli has a lease extension and has expressed interest in the new center. Aptos Cinema recently renewed their lease for two more years. “We strongly believe in keeping the local flavor of the center and are working hard to find ways to support local businesses,” Karbo said.