By  on October 3, 2007

COSTA MESA, Calif. — South Coast Plaza, the luxury retail center built on former lima bean fields here that is marking its 40th anniversary, is always evolving.

The shopping mecca has the rights to build a significant addition. Henry Segerstrom, managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons LLP, which owns the 275-store complex that he refers to as "my baby,'' said in an interview that the timing is not right now, but added, "Maybe in two, or a few, years."

Citing population growth and development in Orange County, Segerstrom said the region is on the cusp of change. Costa Mesa appears poised to become a more urbanized tourist center. Last year, five developers were given approval to build eight 25-story residential buildings around the South Coast Plaza complex, which includes the 8.6-acre Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"The intense pressure of people moving into the area is forcing us to go vertical," he said. "That in itself has created planning for one new hotel, maybe three. We are just at the threshold of seeing big changes."

In Southern California's intensely competitive and crowded retail market, South Coast Plaza has set the standard, reaching $1.5 billion in annual revenues. That volume is propelled by Orange County's ranking at number 35 among the world's most prosperous economies, generating $133 billion annually, with an average household income of $94,200.

South Coast Plaza has spent more than $35 million in 24 months on interior and exterior renovations such as new travertine flooring, glass handrails, a glass elevator and teak benches. Tenants have invested $120 million during that period on new store build-outs and renovations.

"The maturing of South Coast Plaza isn't defined by any single event," said Segerstrom, 84, seated in the boardroom of the company's corporate offices near the retail center. "It's been a smooth growth of what we started several years ago."

Across from the one-story concrete building housing the Segerstrom real estate empire sits the house Henry Segerstrom's grandfather, Carl Johan Segerstrom, built in 1915 in what was an agricultural community.

"When my grandfather came here [from Sweden] in 1898, there were 10,000 people living in the entire county. Today, we have three million. You know the expression 'catching the wave?' We just happened to catch that wave."

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