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Triangle Square loses another tenant

December 20, 2001

Lolita Harper

COSTA MESA -- Johnny Rockets, whose signature small diner feel turns

back the hands of time, has turned its back on Triangle Square.

The hamburger restaurant officially closed Sunday, but leasing

contract negotiations are still on the table, said Eric Lambiase, the

diner's director of real estate. He would not disclose specifics.

Lambiase said while Triangle Square boasts a great location -- on

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Newport Boulevard with direct freeway access -- the center simply did not

provide enough customers. There was no business, he said bluntly.

"It's been a poorly managed mall for years now," Lambiase said.

"There's no foot traffic, and that's what we feed off of."

While anchored by big name stores such as Niketown, Barnes & Noble and

Virgin Megastore, Triangle Square has struggled to retain tenants during

its nine years.

Since it opened in 1992, the center has lost other major tenants, such

as Ralphs grocery store and Sfuzzi restaurant. Two weeks ago, Whole Foods

announced it would close shop in April.

Tom Estes, the property manager at Triangle Square, said the

restaurant leaves another 2,000 square feet of leasable space. Johnny

Rockets will be the sixth vacancy at the shopping center, according to

previous interviews with Estes.

"We're concerned as any owner would be about losing a tenant, but we

are confident for the future," Estes said.

Other Johnny Rockets locations in Orange County include Laguna Beach,

the Irvine Spectrum and the Block at Orange.

Estes once compared Triangle Square to both the Irvine Spectrum and

the Block at Orange, saying the latter two "came along and imitated the

[outdoor entertainment] style."

But while Johnny Rockets is thriving in Irvine and Orange, it is

leaving Costa Mesa.

Steele Platt, the founder and chief executive of Yard House, also in

Triangle Square, said center management must understand the changes that

need to be made to turn the center into a vibrant entertainment center

like the Spectrum and Block.

The Yard House is thriving in its current location on the third floor

because it is a destination restaurant -- meaning it attracts specific

customers who come specifically to eat or drink there.

Platt said he is working with the owners of Triangle Square to change

the whole look and concept of the center. The square must create its own

unique destination qualities to compete, he said.

"In a matter of time, they will find their own," Platt said. "They are

not far off from making it a very successful business center."

In October, Triangle Square Marketing Director Cori Abbs said the

center was trying to target more tenants such as the Yard House to

transform the current food court into more of a restaurant and

entertainment plaza. With the large open space on the top floor, the

center could host live bands and become a popular nighttime destination,

she said.

Neither Platt nor Estes would confirm nor deny that possibility

Wednesday.

"We've got a lot of planning to do," Estes said.

The Yard House owner said he was trying to spearhead a transformation

but added that "it was a matter of [Triangle Square management] agreeing

to [his] proposals."

* Lolita Harper covers Costa Mesa. She may be reached at (949)

574-4275 or by e-mail at o7 lolita.harper@latimes.comf7 .

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