Focus on: Del Mar Highlands Town Center

When Donahue Schriber made the decision to renovate its Del Mar Highlands asset two years ago, the objective was far different than the customary shopping center rehab. 


The 20-year-old Carmel Valley property was already the flagship of the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based developer’s portfolio, so the renovation wouldn’t be about fixing something that was broken, but rather improving an already successful center.


Changes in the area, such as a residential population that exploded over the 20-year span, average annual household income of $160,000, and 4.4 million sq. ft. of office space that sprang up within one mile of the shopping center, led Donahue Schriber to carefully consider how Del Mar Highlands could better leverage its setting.


“When you look at the evolution of the area, you can see the gaps that created opportunity for us,” said Elizabeth Schreiber, VP and general manager, Donahue Schriber. “We had a gem in the shopping > center but asked ourselves what we could do to make it stronger and better.”


Enter what the team calls the re-imagination of Del Mar Highlands. More than a renovation, the project became a re-imagining of what the center could be. In 2009, Donahue Schriber conducted intercept surveys, asking customers what they liked about the shopping center and what they didn’t. The responses led the developer to make several key changes.


Customers wanted better parking and traffic flow, so Donahue Schriber hired a civil engineer to find every inch of potential parking space. “By cutting into a planter by a foot and by adding retaining walls in the hill sides, for example, we were able to add 76 parking stalls,” Schreiber said. Unusable compact stalls were converted to full-size slots to accommodate the SUV demographic, and traffic flow was altered to provide access to a formerly off-limits parking field.


Customers wanted more restaurant choices, and the developer responded by launching a search for the best of San Diego. It brought in the Asian cowboy-themed Burlap, created by celebrity chef Brian Malarkey, which opened this July, as well as a lineup of additional new-to-market dining options.


And, finally, Del Mar Highlands customers wanted better gathering places. Donahue Schriber converted an existing amphitheatre into a two-tiered gathering area, and added fountains and an outdoor fireplace. 


Two grocery stores anchor Del Mar Highlands Town Center — Ralphs Fresh Fare and Jimbo’s Naturally — and Donahue Schriber brought in San Diego’s first luxury theater, which opened July 22. The new, nearly $7 million Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas was plugged into the former UltraStar Cinema, representing the Mexico-based operator’s first foray into the United States. 


The theater has proven to be a huge draw for the center, as guests enjoy a full bar, VIP seating in a luxury setting, high-end food options and full concierge service.


“We turned up the volume on everything we did,” Schreiber said. “Before we launched the re-imagination, Del Mar Highlands was a successful community daily-needs shopping center, and $20 million later it is a state-of-the-art destination and the premiere shopping center in San Diego.”


kfield@chainstoreage.com