LOS ANGELES — The project sounds like a valley girl’s dream: 407,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a 16-screen movie theater, residential buildings and a two-acre park with fountains.
Voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale brought the dream closer on Tuesday when they approved a referendum for zoning changes that permit construction of The Americana at Brand, a $300 million open-air lifestyle center, next to the 1.5 million-square-foot Glendale Galleria owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties.
General Growth, the second-biggest U.S. mall operator, battled against the changes in a showdown with Rick Caruso, developer of the popular Grove outdoor shopping center in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District.
“Obviously I feel terrific,” said Caruso, 45. “Locally and nationally, I think customers and retailers want these open-air centers.”
About 60 lifestyle centers, mixed-use projects that aren’t anchored by department stores and often include sidewalks, are planned or are being built in the U.S. as traditional mall construction has slowed because of saturation, the difficulty of securing large parcels of land suitable for building and more competition.
The referendum reaffirmed three ordinances on the so-called Town Center project’s zoning and planning, known as Measures A, B and C, which were unanimously passed in April by the Glendale City Council. The biggest victory margin was 51.8 percent to 48.1 percent and the narrowest was 50.9 percent to 49 percent.
At the heart of issue for General Growth is the proposed closing of Harvard Street leading into the Galleria, which the company said is not compatible with the 30-year-old mall and could cause an estimated $4 million in annual losses for the company.
“The right town center would have streets that are open, not causing traffic gridlock, have ample parking and blend better with existing business downtown and the existing merchants,” said Arthur Sohikian, a spokesman for General Growth.
General Growth, which forced the referendum after a petition campaign, has proposed revamping the Galleria to give it a presence at street level. It also has filed a lawsuit that challenges the Americana at Brand on environmental grounds.
“Over 14,000 Glendale voters sent a message that they’re still divided on the Caruso Town Center project,” Sohikian said. “We will continue to work with the residents and the city to get the right town center project.”
Caruso, who estimated that he spent close to $2 million on the referendum campaign, said the fights against lifestyle centers are an “unfortunate part of industry now.’’
Glendale Mayor Bob Yousefian, who supports the zoning changes, said, General Growth “can choose to not be the Goliath and instead focus on fixing their malls and be a good corporate neighbor.”
Yousefian said that he never believed that company, which bought the Galleria for $415 million in November 2002, would turn out to be what he called “[the city’s] biggest foe.”
“This city went through hell with this campaign,” he said. “It divided the community to the extent that I’ve never seen happen, and it wasn’t about something important like war…it was about money.”
The referendum battle was marked by charges of dirty tricks among both opponents and proponents, and Caruso said a dead fish wrapped in a newspaper ad supporting the zoning changes — a veiled threat out of “The Godfather’’ — was found outside the door of a group supporting The Americana at Brand.
Caruso said he is moving on with the project, completing leases with retailers and working on the site.