Stenn Parton, the Director of Retail Development Behind Pacific City, Explains the Destination’s Design and Vision
Written By: Nick Cimarusti How Pacific City Is Changing the Face of Orange County Retail
Photographed By: Bradley Blackburn
Orange County’s beachside culture is at a turning point right now, all because of Pacific City. For nearly a decade, we all passed that stretch of undeveloped land along PCH, right after Main Street. It seemed as if the prime real estate would never be anything other than heaps of dirt, a lone dump truck and a chain-link fence. Yet within the past year, Pacific City has broken ground and transformed into a destination with staying power, fully realized and fully developed.
Pacific City is more than an outdoor mall with ocean views (don’t be mistaken, though, those views are definitely Instaworthy). DJM Capital Partners, the developing firm behind Pacific City, has envisioned a mixed-use development that, for suburban Orange County, is actually revolutionary. While mixed-use ventures are common in denser urban neighborhoods—think of The Grove in Los Angeles or San Diego’s Uptown District—a suburban community such as Huntington Beach is uncharted territory for this type of commercial real estate venture.
Let’s slow down. What’s a mixed-use development? It’s a building or close group of buildings where visitors and residents can eat, shop, live, work and play. Pacific City combines retail, residential and public amenities, making it the first mixed-use development directly on the coast. Stores such as Heirlooms and Hardware or H&M are only 60 feet away from Paséa Hotel & Spa. Lot 579, Pacific City’s food hall, is on the same pedestrian pathway as The Residences at Pacific City (which will include over 500 residential spaces).
“It’s one continuous experience, which we think is much more of an urban experience, ” says Stenn Parton, DJM’s director of retail development. “And that’s what we thought was missing in this market.” He likens the overall experience to a ski resort, since you have a beautiful outdoor location—in this case the iconic Huntington Beach Pier community—coupled with luxury amenities and shopping and dining experiences.
Pacific City’s location, directly on Pacific Coast Highway and a five-minute walk from the ocean, contributes to the development’s economic potential. As Parton says, “There are very few retail environments in Southern California, on the West Coast or even in the US that have the type of waterfront location that we do.” But why add Paséa Hotel & Spa to the mix when two other luxury resorts are down the street? “The hotel market in Huntington Beach is some of the strongest hotel market in all of Orange County, ” Parton says. A May 2013 report from the California Travel and Tourism Commission shows that hospitality and tourism earnings accounted for nearly half of California’s total earnings that year.
The hotel market boom extends to this year, as CTTC’s 2015 trend report also reveals that trips to the Orange County region are steadily increasing and will continue to rise. Apparently, people really like coming to Huntington Beach. Which is why Pacific City is an important turning point for the region—it has the potential to alter the face of Orange County’s culture. From both a residential and commercial standpoint, Pacific City could affect how future residential and retail opportunities are developed in the suburbs. Rather than disjointed boutiques and restaurants and hotels, mixed-use design would integrate these community hangouts directly into the neighborhood.
The world-famous location of Pacific City is a key to its success, but at the same time provides a challenge: meeting the desires of both tourists and locals. Parton explains the vision behind Pacific City is a multi-purpose gathering place that stays true to Huntington Beach culture—a vision that, fortunately, does not include tiki torches and woodies.
“We wanted to create an environment that could be a gift to the local community, ” Parton says. “The most important customer to us is the community.” Instead of beach city clichés, Parton and his team drew from firsthand knowledge of Southern California and surfing culture to develop a destination that locals would approve of while still appealing to tourists. For example, one of Pacific City’s biggest dining choices, Lot 579, is named after the lifeguard towers in front of the property. When you’re from the area, you tell friends to meet you between towers 5 and 7; likewise, surfers know to head to tower 9 every morning. In fact, Toby Reece, an owner of Ola Mexican Kitchen at Pacific City, grew up surfing in Huntington Beach and Parton says he often grabs a taco with Reece to discuss that morning’s swells.
DJM is the developer behind Bella Terra, so the firm’s expertise in designing popular destinations for the area is well established. On the other hand, Parton says he and his team kept in mind that the DNA of every community is different. That’s why they’ve developed Pacific City to be even more adaptive than Bella Terra to multiple audiences. “The overall experience is designed to have that morning to night capability, ” Parton says, referring to Pacific City’s family-friendly programming alongside favorite LA beachside hangouts like The Bungalow and Simmzy’s, which will stay open later. “There isn’t a place like that in Orange County that is all controlled by one landlord, which gives us the benefit from a security standpoint and an overall experience standpoint.” Really, you could spend a weekend, or even an entire week, at Pacific City and not run out of places to go or things to do.
The six main buildings from the site’s original plan were altered to be closer together and the entire property layout was elongated to better evoke the feeling of two and a half rows of street blocks. “It’s so convenient to shop online, but I think people want a richer, more unique experience to get them to show up and give their time, ” Parton says. To draw consumers in, he and his team work closely with the Paséa Resort & Spa’s management company and general contractor, Pacific Hospitality Group and RD Olson, along with developer UDR’s establishment of The Residences, to construct a seamlessly unified experience. “Our goal is for Pacific City to be very distinctive of any of the other shopping alternatives in Orange County, ” Parton says.
If urban-inspired, mixed-use destinations such as Pacific City prove successful, then development firms like DJM might continue building them in the area. As a result, suburban Orange County would be influenced by an influx of new businesses and brands, allowing the cultural landscape of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach or Costa Mesa to rival Los Angeles in diversity and entertainment. Conventional retail environments would be replaced by curated, metropolitan experiences in the middle of the suburban sprawl. Good riddance, strip malls.
Baby Boom: Parton and his wife’s first time visiting their newborn daughter’s pediatrician led to internet fame. The pediatrician asked to use the Partons’ daughter in a video showing his special hold to calm crying babies. “And next thing we know, she’s on Good Morning America and has over 17 million hits on YouTube!”
#Goals: Parton says, from a business (and definitely taste) perspective, Bear Flag Fish Co. and Sidecar Doughnuts are his top choices if he had to pick just two spots in Orange County. He says both establishments’ attention to detail inspires him to apply that same focus at Pacific City.
Next Up: DJM Capital Partners will next be developing Lido Marina Village at Lido Isle in Newport Beach. Expect a pedestrian-oriented, “laid back luxe” community center with waterside views and attractions.
Parton’s Top 10 Pacific City Spots: “I’m excited to see how the community responds, ” Parton says. “I think our whole team is excited to hang out and be a part of the other guests’ experience at Pacific City.”
Ola Mexican Kitchen
Petals and Pop
Tankfarm & Co.
Old Crow Smokehouse
Ways & Means Oyster House
21010 Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
P A C I F I C // City: How PCH’s Newest Destination Is Changing OC Retail.