The History of Carousel Mall in San Bernardino, CA
The Carousel Mall, also known as Central City Mall, was a two-story shopping mall in San Bernardino, California, built in 1972 as part of an urban renewal project for the downtown district of San Bernardino.
Central City Mall
Central City Mall, which boasted 52 stores and three major anchor stores – JCPenney, Montgomery Ward, and The Harris Company – opened its doors in 1972.
However, two years later, the city announced a plan that included numerous ideas and projects that never materialized, ultimately leading to the mall’s downfall.
Challenges Faced by Central City Mall
In the late 1970s, the mall encountered obstacles such as local gangs utilizing the mall as a meeting point and disarray due to the mall’s frequent change in ownership by various management companies.
In 1991, the mall owners rebranded it as Carousel Mall and implemented a giant carousel, vibrant interior decor, and brighter facades to attract families with young children and deter gang members.
However, despite the renovation efforts, the mall struggled to sustain its business throughout the rest of the 1990s and faced a significant decline.
Anchor Store Closures
Montgomery Ward closed its doors in 2001, leading to the departure of one of the mall’s three anchor stores. JCPenney held on for another year before closing in 2003, leaving the mall without anchor tenants.
In response to the anchor closures, the mall’s owners allowed a mixed-use concept to fill vacated retail outlets at its 3rd Street entrance and western court/lobby with county offices.
Before its closure, the mall’s largest tenant was the County of San Bernardino, which later moved out of the mall.
The ownership of Carousel Mall has changed hands several times over the years. LNR Property Corp purchased the property in February 2006 with a vision of developing a high-density residential and commercial project.
However, their plans never materialized, and LNR Corp eventually sold the Carousel Mall property in January 2008.
The closure of the adjoining movie theater, CinemaStar, in 2008 compounded the lack of a clear redevelopment plan for the mall.
The loss of foot traffic to the mall only added to the challenges faced by the new owners, M&D Properties, who purchased the property from LNR Corp for $23.5 million.
On August 22, 2017, the Carousel Mall shut down its operations after forcing out the remaining tenants in business.
Obstacles to Carousel Mall Redevelopment
The task of restoring the Carousel Mall to its former glory is beset with challenges, including the continuing decline of the original downtown area of San Bernardino, mixed results from previous redevelopment efforts, greater ease of developing other areas of the city, and legal hurdles arising from past redevelopment agreements.
The Carousel Mall’s failure is best understood in the context of San Bernardino’s bankruptcy proceedings and the State of California’s decision to close Economic Redevelopment Agencies and seize funding from the organizations statewide.
For over two decades, various commercial developers have presented multiple plans for the Carousel Mall in San Bernardino, ranging from rehabilitation and demolition to mixed-use commercial and residential facilities.
However, the City of San Bernardino, Mission Native Americans, various financial institutions, and holding corporations with significant investments in the mall’s development have rejected most proposals.
As a result, a stalemate has been formed, hindering any potential changes to the mall’s future. The difficulties are exacerbated by legal issues from past redevelopment deals, the ongoing decline of San Bernardino’s downtown area, and more accessible development opportunities in other city areas.
The Abandoned Carousel Mall
Once a bustling commercial hub, the Carousel Mall in San Bernardino, CA, now stands empty and abandoned.
In 2012, the San Bernardino City Unified School District moved its offices out of the mall, leaving only independently-owned businesses operating, including four restaurants. The mall officially closed to public access in August 2017.
The city owns the mall’s land, and the carousel inspired by its name was sold in 2018. The city does not own one building that formerly housed Gottschalks. On the evening of May 15, 2022, the mall sustained unknown damage due to a vagrant fire.
The Demolition of the Carousel Mall
On July 20, 2022, city leaders approved a plan to demolish the buildings on the 43-acre property and sell the land.
The Lincoln Property Company previously held the plan to redevelop the site, but on October 14, 2022, they withdrew from the project. As a result, the fate of the land remains uncertain, but the Carousel Mall’s legacy as a failed commercial venture continues to haunt the city of San Bernardino.
After five years of being closed to the public, the fate of the Carousel Mall in San Bernardino has finally been decided. On December 8, 2022, it was announced that the mall would be demolished for $8 million.
The decision to demolish the mall was not made lightly. For years, there had been discussions and proposals about revitalizing the property and turning it into a vibrant commercial and residential hub. However, due to various challenges and stalemates, none of these plans ever came to fruition.
At the end of the day, the current condition, history, and fate of Carousel Mall is a direct reflection of the level of the city leaders’ business savvy. They’ve mishandled the entire project’s course. The mall didn’t build or manage itself. No city project ever has or ever will. When you look around at surrounding cities that have their acts together, it’s clear they didn’t accidentally handle business successfully. Success is NOT accidental. Qualified leaders know how to persuade and lead from goal-to-goal. San Bdo has lacking leaders, who circle, fail, bumble, then point fingers at one another…NOT a recipe for success. And the city’s financial state and its downtown blight is glaring evidence.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Carousel Mall in San Bernardino and the role of city leaders in managing such projects. While it is important to have capable leaders to drive success, it is worth noting that urban development and revitalization projects can be complex and challenging. It may not always be straightforward to achieve success, and various factors may contribute to a project’s outcome.
However, it is understandable that the current state of the mall and the city’s financial situation is a concern for you and others in the community. It will be interesting to see how city leaders address these challenges in the future and how they can work to improve the local economy and quality of life for residents.