News Channel 3 is continuing to ask questions about exactly what is happening with the Palm Desert mall, which was recently stripped of the "Westfield" branding signage.
"The city hasn't heard a lot at this point."
Peter Daut spoke one on one with Todd Hileman, Palm Desert City Manager about the changes at the shopping center. "The city hasn't heard a lot at this point," Hileman said as he confirmed foreclosure proceedings are underway for the property. "The lender has called the note in. And so we have a team monitoring that process right now and they're trying to gain a little bit more information as that process works through," Hileman said.
In early August, News Channel 3 confirmed with a spokesperson for Westfield that the mall's lender was looking to transition management of the property to a third party and sell Westfield Palm Desert. At that time, the spokesperson told News Channel 3 that the mall will remain open during this transitional period.
"Obviously, we're very interested in how this proceeds. The Westfield Mall is a major employment center, city sales tax generator," Hileman said, "So we are monitoring it aggressively." That team is trying to reach out to determine the next steps.
"Time will tell"
This week, News Channel 3 has requested comment on the missing signage from the overseas ownership group, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. Early Friday morning, spokesperson Christina Mendez told us "Exterior branding was recently removed from Westfield Palm Desert as a part of its transition to a receiver. The center remains open and operating to serve the local community."
"At this point," Hileman said Thursday, "We're trying to determine that could simply mean that note has been called in and the new purchaser will potentially be found, but time will tell what that means."
The CEO of the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce, Randy Florence, told News Channel 3 earlier this week that "The Chamber is very interested with whatever the eventual plans are going to be there. I am trying to establish a conversation with folks over at Westfield... The chamber would love to play a big role in this because that's a huge retail piece of our city in our community." However, at that time, he hadn't gotten many answers.
"I think that the next steps are we our teams are currently trying to reach out to the lender, find out exactly what they have in mind what the process is how they're thinking their way through this, this issue at this point." Hilleman told Peter Daut, adding that the city was in touch with other owners on-site, including anchor stores Sears, JC Penney, and Macy's, to make sure "that we're here as a resource, and that offering our services to make sure that the mall continues to be as successful as possible."
"Ready and available to help"
"It's one of the largest malls in the Valley, if not the largest mall still in the Valley, and obviously an integral highly visible piece of property in Palm Desert," Hileman said. "And if we could be of valued assistance, we're going to be there. And we've put a team together that can help interface with all four of the various property interests in this in this discussion and let them know that we're ready and available to help."
The mall, which is home to 102 stores according to its website, has remained operational and open.
You can watch Peter's interview with the Palm Desert City Manager tonight at 6:30 on CBS Local 2 and FOX Palm Springs.
A post in the ownership group's portfolio page touts the center as "the only indoor, super-regional shopping destination in the Coachella Valley, California’s most populated and prosperous desert community."
The Palm Desert mall is owned by the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Group, a European-based real estate company that owns malls across the world, including 25 in the United States. The August announcement came just hours after the Wall Street Journal reported that Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield was looking to unload its mall assets as the company attempts to shrink its debt. Reuters reported in February that Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield was looking to cut its U.S. exposure to close to zero. “At the end of the day, the exposure to the U.S. will be minimal, if not zero,” said Jean-Marie Tritant, the company's chief executive, during a call with journalists at that time. The company sold off three U.S. malls last year.