Dense homes at San Antonio called 'pipe dream'

With 16 shopping center owners and Walmart in the mix, a Santana Row-like development is not possible, Thoits says

Fred Thoits, one of two major owners of San Antonio shopping center, injected a dose of reality into the public discussion over what should happen to San Antonio shopping center during an interview with the Mountain View Voice on Tuesday.

Thoits leveled criticism at the Mountain View City Council, city staff and the Voice for not informing the public that a Santana Row-style mixed use development is not possible at the shopping center. San Antonio will be a focal point as the City of Mountain View revises its General Plan over the next two years, and in General Plan "visioning" hearings, residents have expressed desire for such a development, saying they want "walkable" and lively streetscapes with housing situated over retail.

"We can envision the Taj Mahal too -- it's not going to happen," Thoits said. "If (Santana Row) is their vision we just can board up the stores and look at vacant property with no revenue and no sales tax." That's because such a development is not "financially feasible," he said.

Thoits added that "high density residential is the farthest thing from our minds." For the owners, the goal is to "establish a precise plan for the next 20 years to give us flexibility" in how the site is developed.

"If 15 years from now there's a huge demand for residential, we can include that."

Mountain View planning director Randy Tsuda didn't totally disagree, but said housing has not been ruled out for the site.

There is a "possibility of housing and office," Tsuda said. "But retail would still be a major use on the site. It would be tough to create a Santana Row on that site. It wouldn't be realistic. We have to see what's feasible there."

Much of the problems Thoits cites revolve around Walmart, which is the shopping center's largest tenant. Thoits said Walmart, which is on property owned by San Antonio Center LLC, has a lease for 50 years or more.

The shopping center has 16 landowners. So far, only the two largest owners of the center, Thoits Brothers Development and San Antonio Center LLC, have proposed redevelopment. Thoits indicated that two other key owners, Diana M. Santos and Machado San Antonio Parts LLC, have yet to join the planning process. The four owners control 50 of the center's 57 acres.

"We talked with the developer of Santana Row -- we've talked to some very large developers," Thoits said. "One hundred percent of them have told us with 16 owners you can't possibly do a Santana Row-type project. With Walmart in your backyard nobody in their right mind would.

"Agents, lenders, everybody has told us that site is not big enough. It's just a pipe dream. To get the community thinking Santana Row will be in the shopping center. ... It's a disservice to us to get the community stirred up."

Still sore over Home Depot

Last year the City Council rejected a proposal for a Home Depot at San Antonio Shopping Center to replace the Sears, which is on property Thoits owns.

"That cost the family $85 million," Thoits said. "That was the revenue we would have had with this Home Depot lease for 35 years. The city cavalierly denied the project and said 'We want a Santana Row here.' Now no major retailers are doing deals, and Sears is about to go under we think."

"They weren't addressing reality," Thoits said of City Council members. "We're pretty frustrated, quite frankly."

Thoits said he was especially miffed when the city released a report on the city budget two weeks ago that identified "building materials" as one of the top two areas of "retail leakage" in the city, which means that the city is losing significant sales tax revenue to hardware stores outside of the city, like Home Depot.

Council member Ronit Bryant continued to be optimistic last week about the opportunities for redevelopment at San Antonio. Council member Jac Siegel was as well, saying the shopping center was a "gateway" to the city on El Camino Real and should look the part.

"San Antonio Shopping Center is clearly underutilized at this point," Bryant said. "Mixed use would be great. That's as far as I've gotten. I'm thrilled that some of the owners, Thoits included," want to redevelop, she said.

"It seems clear to me it could be used better and bring in more revenue for the owners. Let's go forward, let's go forward."

Mountain View currently faces a $6 million budget deficit in 2009-10, and the January report points to new retail development as a major strategy for increasing the city's revenue stream in the long term.

"These are not good times," Thoits said. "There could have been a brand new Home Depot in that center generating a lot of business and a lot of sales tax. It's frustrating to see the city come out now with all these findings."

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

It's beginning to look like for many of us, shopping is going to mean driving a long distance or shopping online. I honestly don't want to have to use Walmart, but the only alternative just maybe that to online shopping which is not on for a lot of stuff.

Like this comment
Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 13, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I'm glad they stopped the Home Depot. Home Depot is doing badly now anyway, they would have defaulted on the lease.

Also glad there will be no santana row. Think of the crowds. I'm glad it's in san jose, which takes people away from palo alto. this place is overcrowded.

how about a nice big park instead?

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Aha, I knew it. Sixteen owners--nothing cohesive is ever going to happen at that site unless the owners start buying one another out.

I honestly don't think we need a Santana Row there--we have the Palo Alto downtown and Stanford for the upscale stuff--you can find duplicates of most of the stores at Santana in one of the two sites. Bix box stores aren't actually a bad use of the property--though, yeah, they're going to need an anchor to replace Sears.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 13, 2009 at 11:51 pm

The shopping center as it stands now is a destination.

Evidence for this statement is the free Stanford University shuttle bus that brings students to San Antonio Center. The students (well, some of them) live on a budget like ordinary folks, so shopping at the Stanford mall does not make sense for them.

1 person likes this
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2009 at 10:25 am

I believe I just fell in love with realist Mr. Thoits and with Walmart! Whew! I thank you and my childrens future children thank you. I love Santana Row and Stanford shopping center, go to them often, bit use San Antonio shopping center 5 times as much for my basic shopping needs! The money I save there enables me to go to the other two! It's kind of like wearing a pretty dress and heels, fun here and there, but you slip into your sweats for comfort. Stanford for me and my family and friends is largly specialty/impulse buy destination, San Antonio is shopping lists and gym and weekly purchases!

1 person likes this
Posted by ySK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2009 at 11:05 am


Like this comment
Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 14, 2009 at 12:12 pm


AMEN to that! No more shops either! Or Offices!

1 person likes this
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Soooo many empty offices between here and San Jose. Is that building on El Camino where Old Pro was occupied yet?

1 person likes this
Posted by value
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

I live in a nice part of PA, drive a nice car, and shop at Sears and Trader Joe's (and use coupons if I can find them). I can't afford Stanford Mall, and frankly, Sears has high quality clothing (esp at the Lands End store) and great sales (esp for kids clothing). I'm glad they didn't put a Home Depot there, I'd have to go farther afield for affordable clothing, tools, etc. Cupertino would be getting my sales tax then, probably.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2009 at 3:54 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Developers don't make people, people make people. Those people craving solitude, go to Google Earth and check the vast majority of the surface, bereft of structures. It is presumptuous to benefit from the sharing that is the strength of the city system but deny that to others. For those wanting to raise the drawbridge, I understand the city of Drawbridge is sparsely populated.

1 person likes this
Posted by rem
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2009 at 11:17 am

Dear butchers of San Antonio Shopping Center,

Take away a workable Center - One that works - One that has different areas. Easy access in and out..

Have WE NOT learned anything from the JOKE called Sunnyvale Shopping Center, on Mathilda in Sunnyvale… OR better still the JOKES called Santana Row and Stanford Mall....

Another nice old place - GONE.

Reality CHECK please on the “Mountain View City Council approved a "gatekeeper" request last week that could lead to a massive revamp of San Antonio Shopping Center, possibly even bringing the spirit of San Jose's Santana Row to Mountain View.”

Why don’t we have a honest Mountain View City Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobby, Developer (Contractors) Donate, We approve!!!!”

It would be great if the Mountain View City Council learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason to approve REVAMPING San Antonio Shopping Center except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not care about the people of Mountain View/Palo Alto and the surrounding areas that use the Shopping Center…..

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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