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Hilltop Mall is dead: What's up next for the East Bay property?

SF Gate logo SF Gate 4/23/2021 Amy Graff
The parking lot at Hilltop Mall sits empty on March 17, 2020 in Richmond during the coronavirus pandemic. © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The parking lot at Hilltop Mall sits empty on March 17, 2020 in Richmond during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hilltop Mall in Richmond, Calif., is dead.

The shopping palace — once home to a Macy's, an ice-skating rink and a movie theater — has struggled for years and a Walmart is all that remains. But there's a new prospect for this 78-acre property right off Interstate 80.

San Francisco-based Prologis, among the world's largest industrial property owners, purchased Hilltop for $117 million this week.

While the plans for the property are still in the works, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt told SFGATE one thing is clear: "I don’t think we’re going to see a mall come back there."

Prologis said in a statement it plans to "pursue a mixed-use development that includes residential, retail, and modern logistics facilities, which will spur further reinvestment, job growth, and economic opportunity.”

"It is moving," said Butt. "That’s the good news."

The property's existing zoning and zone designation call for a high-density, mixed-use project and if Prologis decides to build a project within those parameters, they will not have to go through general planning and a rezoning change. "If for example, they wanted to integrate industrial or logistical use they would have to go through that process," Butt explained. "Logistical use would be for a warehouse distribution facility, like an Amazon fulfillment center."

Butt said that he believes Prologis will hold some meetings with the community for input on the vision and Prologis said in a statement that it's "deeply committed to working with the City of Richmond and residents to promote the revitalization of the Hilltop area."

"I’m excited that something is happening," Butt added. "We’ve gone from a dead mall to an opportunity and the city is going to get about $3.5 million in real estate transfer tax through this purchase so we’re happy about that."

In 2017, LBG Real Estate Cos. purchased the shopping center with the intention of building a multi-use space with housing, offices, a hotel and a freshly modernized Hilltop Mall. But things changed during the pandemic, and the San Francisco Business Times reported in August the company rebranded the area the "East Bay Science and Technology Center" in the hopes of "pitching it as a new potential center for life sciences and biotech space."

The Richmond Standard reported last summer that the mall was only about 16% occupied by retailers.

"The only think left in the mall is Walmart," Butt said. "Everything else is gone. The entire area is closed up and vacant except for Walmart. I don’t think anyone knows what Walmart is going to do. I’d like to see them stay there and maybe enlarge into a larger Walmart with a grocery store. People in Hilltop are desperate for a grocery store."

Hilltop Mall wasn't always desolate and when it opened in 1976, its two levels were filled with stores and shoppers. "My friends and I were mall rats during high school," said Jill Guido, who grew up in Richmond and often took the bus to the mall with friends after school.  "My favorite was when they opened up the Cinnabon. It was next to the photography studio and the Sanrio Surprises store."

Many in the community mourned the loss of the mall in a Facebook post published Thursday announcing the mall's next chapter in the Hilltop District group.

"I remember the dominos. I use to come and play their every weekend and movie theater," wrote one.

"My first job was at JC Penny's my sophomore year.. Hate to see the mall demise," shared another.

"I remember driving over when I was not yet 17 with my friends from Marin (1977+)," wrote a user. "It was such a new thing, an indoor mall."

SFGATE Managing Editor Katie Dowd contributed to this story.

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