OCM: You used the term, “downtown” in referring to Newport Center. Has
Fashion Island and, to a wider extent, Newport Center become downtown
Newport Beach? Will the Irvine Company try and formally brand this
concept? Sheridan: We don’t have plans to push that idea. It has just
evolved over time, and we believe it is an increasingly accurate
perception of Newport Center. It goes back to the company’s master plan
to have a major retail component surrounded by office space and hotels,
and now with City Hall and other services locating here as well, it’s
easy to arrive at the assumption. This is clearly a destination for the
city and the region.
OCM: Has the opening of Whole Foods and concerns about traffic and parking on that side of the center kept you up at night? Sheridan:
Not at all. We are really thrilled with its arrival. As we add new
components to Fashion Island, it is a constant re-education of our
customers on the best places to park depending on where they are going
in the center. We’ve made adjustments to parking structures, and we will
provide appropriate signage to help customers navigate around the
center. We know there are those concerns about putting a grocer in a
center like this. But remember, the Whole Foods shopper is different
than the person who goes to the local supermarket. They are purchasing
more specialty items or prepared foods, so they are leaving with one or
two bags, not necessarily a full shopping cart of goods.
What has impressed you most about the center’s evolution in the year
you’ve been at the helm of retail operations for the Irvine Company? Sheridan:
I’ve been in the industry for a long, long time, and I don’t know of
another owner who is as committed to the kind of reinvestment the way
the Irvine Company is in its retail properties. Fashion Island is the
best example. Many shopping center owners are not master-plan developers
or long-term thinkers, and the fact that this type of strategic
approach is happening here ultimately benefits the customer.
OCM: Finally, as a longtime executive in retail space, how would you assess consumer confidence right now? Has it improved? Sheridan:
It’s certainly better than 18 to 24 months ago. Most of what you read
suggests that consumer confidence has experienced an up-tick. We see it
across our portfolio. Traffic and spending is up. We also see more
leasing activity, another key sign that confidence in the economy is
improving. I still believe there is a cautious element out there. The
European economic uncertainty is a concern, and people think about it.
But that being said, we are light years from where we were several years
ago. We definitely are feeling better about the future.
≈ HELLO, WHOLE FOODS ≈
The world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket has opened in Newport Beach.
What does foodie heaven look like? Perhaps it has row upon pristine row of colorful natural, organic produce, as well as meat, fish, poultry and prepared foods and beverages far too numerous to sample.
If you are one of the Whole Foods initiated, perhaps you’ve already made your first visit to the sumptuous new location at Fashion Island. At press time, the interest appears to be quite high, as the opening-day crowds on Sept. 19 were larger than anticipated for O.C.’s fifth Whole Foods location – the first in Newport Beach.
The Austin, Tex.-based company is a high-end grocery concept that was founded in 1980 and now has locations throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Named one of OC METRO’s 10 Most Trustworthy Brands for 2012, Whole Foods continues to stress quality as it strengthens its presence in Southern California.
The 32,000-square-foot Newport Beach location has all the features and products offered by the brand. In addition, it will feature the coastal-themed Back Bay Tavern, a beer-and-wine bar, along with the national debut of the Tea Hive, a café-and-tea bar.