Ask Lookout: What’s in the works for charred Mission Street shopping center?

The shopping center on the corner of Mission Street and King Street will soon receive a facelift and structural improvements.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A run-of-the-mill shopping center is one of the latest parcels in Santa Cruz to be turned into a construction site as it undergoes a facelift and prepares to bring in new tenants. It’s a welcome update for a structure that has seen a fair amount of trouble in recent years.

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Heavy machinery is a common sight in Santa Cruz County these days. From big changes to much-visited areas and imperative fixes to public infrastructure to the demolition of iconic local structures, it’s hard to go even a few blocks without seeing a new construction site.

Mission Street is one of the latest areas to get a work site of its own. Passersby will notice the shopping center on the corner of Mission Street and King Street partially demolished, but not devoid of life, as La Cabaña Taqueria and Arrow Surf Shop are still operating out of the remaining suites — albeit surrounded by rubble and boarded storefronts, which have been empty for some time. The shopping center is set to get a makeover and structural improvements.

The antique store Shen’s Gallery relocated to Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz in 2019. The adjacent Westside Video has, in fact, survived the fall of physical media and converted into a media delivery service free from the bounds of brick-and-mortar. You might also remember Skatter, the vintage home decor store, and Batata Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is now just down the street, in the Palm Center across the street from CVS.

But one thing you almost certainly do remember is the bizarre circumstances surrounding the rapid closure of the Mission and King center’s Chinese restaurant, O’Mei.

shopping center
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In August 2017, Bay Area-based independent media collective IndyBay broke news that the restaurant’s owner, Roger Grigsby, had donated to white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke’s 2016 Louisiana U.S. Senate campaign. Just a week later, the restaurant closed, per a report from the Good Times. It’s been empty ever since.

So what’s going on there? Turns out, a much-needed facelift. City of Santa Cruz Principal Planner Samantha Haschert said the building is in the early stages of a remodel that includes updates to the front facade.

The new layout will have nine commercial tenant suites, rather than the seven that previously existed on the site. Perhaps most notably, there will be a gap in the middle of the building for landscaping and additional parking.

The planned work brings new life to a building that has seen a fair amount of turmoil over the past several years. Almost exactly a year ago in April 2022, a fire broke out at the westernmost suite in the complex formerly occupied by Shen’s Gallery, causing about $6 million in damages. Shen’s had moved prior to the fire, and luckily, the businesses still operating out of the shopping center were not damaged. The cause of the blaze was never determined.

Haschert added that because the design permit was approved in 2021, prior to the fire, she expects the project to get some tweaks in order to address the additional work and structural repairs that need to happen as a result of the damage. The demolition of the affected portion of the structure was, in fact, not considered until the fire occurred.

“We’re currently working with the city to address the fire-damaged portion,” said project architect Scott Brereton. “The plan is to keep the layout approved in the 2021 permit.”

shopping center 3
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Brereton confirmed that the burnt part of the structure was too damaged to repair without rebuilding entirely, which has increased the scope of the project.

“We’re waiting for the city to come up with a solution and let us know what is required, but we’re still looking to attract a tenant mix similar to what we previously had there,” said Brian Dueck, a partner with Cianciarulo Construction, who is co-contracting the project with McCombs Built Construction. “Once the revised plan is approved, we’re fired up to get it going again.”

Bob Pearson, owner of Arrow Surf Shop, sure is, too. “The communication to us four years ago was that it would be remodeled. It’s been a longtime project that’s had a lot of problems, but we’re planning to stay,” he said, adding that Arrow has been located in the shopping center since 1976.

Pearson recalls “a myriad of issues” that had been ongoing since the project’s conception. “Then COVID came and made life difficult for damn near everyone.”

Now, though, Pearson says that even though final details on the revised plans are still being worked out, progress has picked up and he’s ready to see the project get going once again.

Keep an eye on this revitalization effort, and we will, too.


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