Big Plans for a Del Mar Icon
Posted on July 2, 2017
Del Mar Plaza, long the heart of this upscale coastal community, has new owners who have a personal and local interest in its success. Marc and Patricia Brutten live just a few blocks away, in the historic Canfield-Wright House they bought a couple of years ago that they’ve restored to its original glory. They plan to do the same for the 28-year-old plaza, which has declined over the years with higher rents, frequent tenant turnovers, and empty storefronts. Brixton Capital, the couple’s holding company, bought the 76,000-square-foot open air shopping and restaurant complex with sweeping ocean views earlier this year from a Munich, Germany-based firm.
Marc Brutten outlined plans over coffee at the plaza’s Pacifica Breeze Café. “We bought it because we felt it was an under-appreciated and neglected asset that we could add a lot of value to — monetarily as well as psychic and psychological,” he says. “We felt the bones were fantastic but through physical deterioration and lack of attention, it didn’t have any spirit. The activity was gone. To make a shopping center successful, it has to have a spirit; a feel to it,” he adds.
The plaza first opened in 1989 after more than five years of contentious debate over the size of both the center and L’Auberge Del Mar across the street. Although the city initially approved plans for a much larger complex, opponents, worried about traffic and other issues, fought back. In the end, Del Mar voters approved a scaled-down version in a special election by a mere 41 votes.
First developed by Del Mar residents Ivan Gayler and David Winkler, the plaza was designed by the late Jon Jerde, a visionary architect also known for Horton Plaza, Santa Monica Place, Universal City Walk, the Bellagio Hotel and other casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, and even the look of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as its so-called “Design Czar.” Jerde called his concept “place making,” what The Los Angeles Times described in the architect’s obituary as “creating memorable places that pulsed with life and community using entertainment and shopping as catalysts.”
The Bruttens want to recapture that sense of community, using the plaza’s vast upper terrace, with its panoramic Pacific views, for public and private events, whether music, magic, or ‘Mommy and Me’’ programs. They also plan to revitalize the plaza’s retail and restaurant mix. Faced with increasing competition from Internet-based shopping, Marc insists on creativity, curating a shopping destination for its tenants and customers. “From the moment you enter the parking structure, it should be an experience that offers a story. Great food. Great drinks. Different retail. A great vibe,” he explains.
The company is searching for “creative, different, interesting retailers that interweave a consistent message,” says Marc. “That message could be unusual goods at a moderate price.” One possibility is an Indie-style bookstore offering audiobooks, cards, and special gifts not readily available online.
Also under consideration is a mid-priced restaurant to complement longtime tenants Il Fornaio, Pacifica Del Mar, and Del Mar Rendezvous. Marc likes the idea of a Spanish tapas-style or Euro-Mexican eatery, like former tenant Epazote. “That’s the kind of vibe we want,” he says. “Good margaritas, a vibrant, happening bar, and moderate prices,” that will keep people coming back. “Consumers here eat out quite a bit,” he says, “but people want value, not $100 a head.”
To make a shopping center successful, it has to have a spirit; a feel to it
A grocery is a possibility. “I really, really want to see a market here again,” he says. “The community needs it and I would support it.” But a market is more problematic because the original market space, once occupied by Harvest Ranch, was specially engineered and designed with a giant cooler beneath the floor for food storage. That space is now occupied on a long-term lease by Salon Republic, which provides private studios for hairstylists and other beauty professionals. “Creating another space with refrigeration is very tricky,” says Marc. For now, he’s considering a smaller convenience or sundries store.
While the plaza will be refreshed with paint, plants, and other improvements, it won’t see major renovations. “I don’t want to change anything about the infrastructure,” he says. “It can be beautified through layering, color, and design elements interwoven with the existing architecture.” For instance, the Bruttens are looking into updates to the furnishings on the ocean view deck.
They’ve already had plenty of input from locals, including the plaza’s original developers, Del Mar residents Gayler and Winkler, who conceived the plaza as an Italian hillside village. “I want them to be involved with the process because they have a vested interest in the community,” Marc says. “They did such a good job. I feel they are historians and should be involved in the process.” He says he welcomes community ideas. “I’m happy to work with neighborhood constituents,” Marc says with a smile. “I want everyone to have a say. If people have input, they’re part of the process. And they’ll be even more connected with the project.” 858.683.7100, delmarplaza.com Andrea Naversen
Marc Brutten: Photo by Vincent Knakal Del Mar Plaza historic: courtesy of Del Mar Historical Society Del Mar Plaza 2011: Courtesy Photo