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Shopping center remodel OKd
1970s center will receive much needed facade update
Shopping Center
Sections of the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center look like a neglected ghost town, suffering from significant investment and vacancies. That is expected to change with the approval of designs for facade remodeling. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A shopping center which dates back to the Jimmy Carter administration will be receiving a facelift to make it a more profitable venture by helping fill vacancies.

On Monday the Ceres Planning Commission voted 4-0 to approve a plan to remodel the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center at the southwest corner of Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road.

The shopping center is home to Save Mart, Prime Shine/Cruisers, Taco Bell, Bank of America, Delta Blood Bank, and a number of smaller retailers.

A key aspect of the remodel will give the center a modern look in an effort to become more attractive to shoppers. The center suffers from a significant number of vacancies.

"This is a pretty exciting application," said Tom Westbrook, the city's director of Community Development. "What I mean by that is you have a property owner who's looking to reinvest in the community and reinvest in the property. The Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center is about 35 years in age."

He commented that the façade of the center looks as dated as the late 1970s when it was built. Laminated wood used in some of the façade is coming apart and suffering from dry rot and peeling paint.

"For all intents and purposes, it's going to have a look of a brand-new shopping center and that's very exciting to see that private investment into the community."

Commissioners Bob Kachel, Channce Condit, Laurie Smith and Hugo Molina unanimously approved the Specific Plan Site Plan (SPSP).

Save Mart plans to relocate from its existing store location and shift to the vacant space to the east that once was occupied by Rite Aid. Plans are also to enclose the former Rite Aid garden area next to the Bank of America and be included in the new Save Mart store. The move will expand the size of Save Mart which is gearing up for the possibility of competition when the Walmart Supercenter is built.

Westbrook cautioned the commission to not get excited about any names that appear on the architectural renderings because they were just for illustrative purposes. One such name was that of a fitness center.

The work will include removing the sections and overhangs that jut out and adding a cedar-colored horizontal cement lap siding with metal shade canopies, and vertical corrugated metal accents. Different colors will be added to stucco finish, including Norfolk cream, Texas Sage, Kendall Charcoal and Tucson Red.

The owners of the center are hoping a new look draws more tenants. The center has a number of noticeable vacancies, one being the former Round Table Pizza space. In addition, there are a number of vacant pads for fast-food restaurants.

Westbrook said BofA is eager to get the ball rolling and has already submitted building permit applications for their portion of the work.

"Bank of America is very eager to get this part done," said Gregor Markel of the Dahlin Group, the project architects. "They're concerned about the look - the facades are dated and in need of replacement and the owner really would like to get moving as quickly as possible."

He said plans will be submitted within four to six weeks to start work on the rest of the center.

Markel said he didn't know when construction would start but said it could take up to six months. Construction will be planned in phases so that none of the businesses will be disrupted, he told the commission.

Ceres Chamber of Commerce President Renee Ledbetter applauded the proposal, saying it comes at a good time as the region comes out of a "really deep dark recession and a good sign for the economy and for our community."

Sheila Brandt, a Ceres resident, said she is "so excited about this."

"What a great corner piece that will be for Ceres," opined Commissioner Laurie Smith.

In 2003 Taco Bell relocated to the east and this year Barbour's Save Center was razed to make way for a new Cruisers mini-mart and Prime Shine Car Wash.