Time may have passed us by

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By Ralph Damiani

As the county and the schools are more and more at odds over how the deal for Trinity Place reads, we are more and more concerned that it will never happen.

Reports from every business corner that you want to go to say that vacancies in malls and shopping plazas are rising fast nationally. The reports note that the average vacancy rate at neighborhood and community malls rose to 8.2 percent, up from 7.3 percent in 2007.

This is the highest level since 1995.

It is just this kind of facility that the county has been talking about since 2006 putting here. But the world today is in a different reality than that of 2006.

If you are concerned - as we have been - and go to the county to ask about what is going on, you are told that you must speak to Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro.

Only, he does not tell you much.

He will tell you things are progressing, but nothing is finalized and they are still talking.

For three years we are still talking?

Now, we understand there is not all that much he can say, that you do not negotiate in public. True enough. But after three years, all that can be said is they will get back to us?

Reports state that nationally the amount of retail space being abandoned is at its highest level in 28 years. Many retailers have filed for bankruptcy and closed up.

The growth in rents at neighborhood and community shopping centers dropped to 0.4 percent in the second quarter from 0.5 percent in the first quarter and 0.8 percent a year earlier.

Given the economic headwinds facing consumers and the housing market, there will be more retail bankruptcies and mall vacancies over the next several years.

So how are we to have confidence in what is happening here? Look around Los Alamos, there is retail space galore here. If someone wanted to open a shop here there is nothing stopping them now.

Given the state of the environment, why are we to think things will be different here with new spaces to fill when the national example says just the opposite?

As the recession leaves more retail casualties in its wake, rising bankruptcies and mall closures could have devastating economic consequences. We are no different and it is time for the county to stop throwing good money after bad.

It is time to look at other avenues to assist the economy here. Work more with the lab to help with related businesses. Spend more money on transportation plans. Take an approach that is new. Work with the LACDC. There are other options.

It is clear the mall approach is a failing concept.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, in its most recent forecast, expects that 6,100 chain stores will close this year, the highest level since 2004.

In 2009, the ICSC estimates that store closings could exceed 3,100 in just the first half of the year. However, the number of potential closings rises exponentially when the firm takes into account both public and private sector businesses.

The ICSC projects that about 148,000 retail establishments will go out of business this year and another 73,000 stores will close in the first half of the year.

This space we have on Trinity should be looked at for mixed community use like schools, libraries and new housing.

And maybe a new municipal building and theater?

It is time to take some hard looks. We are in a crisis and just thinking we can continue with business as usual will not get us anywhere.