ESCONDIDO — Revitalization efforts are underway as new owners plan to return the mall known as North County Fair to its former glory.
Steerpoint Capital and Bridge Group Investments purchased the mall from Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield in February for $57 million.
The mall opened in the mid-1980s during a boom period for shopping malls. Bo Okoroji, managing partner and founder of Steerpoint Capital, said the mall is well-liked and well-visited despite the recent decline in mall shoppers across the country and has created many fond memories for locals over the years.
According to Okoroji, who previously served as head of U.S. investments for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the mall welcomes 6 million visitors annually. During the pandemic, the mall averaged between 3 million and 4 million visitors; pre-pandemic, the mall saw an average of 8 million visitors.
“Our goal is to get the mall back to that point pre-COVID by retaining and adding retail,” Okoroji said.
The Escondido mall is the fourth California mall the two investment groups have purchased in partnership. The other three are Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale, Northridge Mall in Salinas and the Shops at Montebello.
The new owners’ goal is to focus on right-sizing the mall’s retail aspect by maintaining current tenants and finding new ones to take over the many vacant spaces.
“We have a significant number of national tenants that want to be here; we just need to identify more tenants,” Okoroji said.
Only Macy’s and JCPenney remain from the original anchor stores. Sears and Nordstrom closed in 2020. No tenant is lined up for the Nordstrom space, but the city has entered into a new lease agreement with Costco to take over the former Sears location.
“We’re supportive of bringing in Costco,” Okoroji said.
The mall occupies 83 acres at the southern end of Escondido. The city owns all but 9 acres.
Redeveloping the mall to include mixed-use residential is currently out of reach for the new owners, though it could be discussed down the road.
According to Jennifer Schoeneck, Deputy Director of Economic Development for the city, apartments are only allowed on site if voters pass a measure to allow such use.
Though residential space on the mall property isn’t happening anytime soon, the new owners are considering the addition of a hotel, which is an approved use for the area. Another piece being considered is a theater, which could fill the void with Regal Escondido’s upcoming closure and other entertainment possibilities.
“We want this to be a family-oriented destination,” Okoroji said. “We’re finding things for all ages.”
For now, the mall will be known as North County Mall, but Okoroji said his company plans to poll local residents on the new name.