San Bernardino Council Selects Renaissance/ICO’s Riverwalk Plan For Mall Makeover

On Wednesday, March 3, the San Bernardino City Council elected to back a comprehensive and energetic proposal by the Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group consortium to redevelop the long-languishing 43-acre Carousel Mall site at the city’s core.
The mall, a portion of which includes the Harris’ building first established in 1927 and which has existed in the form of a modern mall since 1972, is proximate to San Bernardino City Hall, which has itself been shuttered for seismic considerations since 2017.
The proposal by Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group first publicly previewed in January was more elaborate than the mere mall makeover the city had sought for the project. In addition to transforming the mall into a post modern urban landscape involving mixed commercial and residential uses, the plan calls for creating an artificial stream that will accompany an arbor-like riverwalk rich in vegetation and some 1,000 trees through the downtown area, which includes currently existing municipal and county offices, the Mexican and Guatemalan consulates, the city’s banking district, retail and office/professional uses, the city’s entertainment section, as well as State of California offices that include the 11-story modern 2014 courthouse and the city’s/county’s historic 1926 courthouse.
The synergy envisioned in Renaissance Downtowns USA/ICO Real Estate Group team’s plan was a factor in its selection by the city council, but not the only one.
The two companies, which have cooperated on projects previously, were among 11 separate entities competing to get the right to serve as the master developer/redeveloper of the mall property. After the competition began in earnest, they combined their efforts and eight of the others involved in the selection process were shunted aside by the city, leaving them to go toe-to-toe with the Chinese-based conglomerate, Shanghai Construction Group, known by its acronym SCG. When it was revealed that SCG was filtering money to Mayor John Valdivia and his electioneering fund through various SCG corporate affiliates and subgroups, suspicions were raised. Valdivia, in a ham-handed way, then sought to promote and militate on behalf of SCG, at one point inveigling City Manager Robert Field into assisting him in doing so. After it was learned that Valdivia was seeking to hide the money he was receiving from SCG and that Field was militating with him to get an internal city staff recommendation to proceed with SCG’s redevelopment plan, there was a firestorm of controversy centered around charges that Valdivia is on the take and that he was corrupting Field and the city’s top ranking employees. Council Members Ben Christmas-Reynoso and Kimberly Calvin took a lead in questioning what Valdivia was up to, and citizen outrage at Valdivia’s action escalated. In that atmosphere, it became impossible for Field to return a recommendation in favor of SCG.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, city staffers provided a recommendation that the city council reject both bids to redevelop the Carousel Mall property and rather include the mall property into a yet-to-be-determined downtown revitalization effort.
Some 56 residents weighed in on the project in prerecorded messages played during Wednesday’s meeting. None of those sounded a recommendation for the SCG proposal. Many of those callers excoriated Valdivia over the appearance of his having taken money from SCG in return for rigging the selection process in that company’s favor. Most of the callers who recommended a choice between the competing developers sided with Renaissance and ICO, although there was a fair smattering who suggested that the competition be re-initiated from scratch.
Ultimately, council members Theodore Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Fred Shorett, Ben Reynoso, Kimberly Calvin and Damon Alexander voted in favor of accepting the proposal by Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group, and allowing both to serve as the mall’s combined master redeveloper. Councilman Juan Figueroa, Valdivia’s most steadfast ally on the council and who himself has been spotted cavorting with SCG principals and corporate officers and has taken money from them, voted in opposition to selecting Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group.
-Mark Gutglueck

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