Going Local for Retail Success in Dana Point, California

by Jeff Shaw

— By Kelly Reenders —

The California coastal city of Dana Point sought to redevelop its underutilized Town Center, with the goal being to create a pedestrian-friendly live-work-play neighborhood that encouraged further reinvestment and development. 

Now called the Lantern District, the four-block downtown is anchored by Prado West, a three-building mixed-use complex with 109 apartments and nearly 30,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurants, shops and public outdoor space. Though the endeavor is now something the city and residents can be proud of, the project had its share of challenges. These included gaining community support for proposed changes, in addition to overcoming a leasing timeline that included a pandemic shutdown.

Embracing the Local Community

For Dana Point and Prado West’s developer, Raintree Partners, the solution was to embrace local entrepreneurs. Raintree recognized the value of encouraging other owners to reinvest in their properties early on as the downtown plan took shape. 

This caught the attention of Max Fisher, owner of the Shwack Beach Grill, which sits across the street from Prado West. Soon enough, Fisher and his partners agreed to open HomeSlice, an Italian- and pizza-focused restaurant, in Prado West across from their existing grill. As local owners, the partners felt the restaurant’s town center location connected with a sense of home. 

Speaking of restaurants, the Raintree team used to dine at the former storefront restaurant of local chef Danielle Kuhn, which was located in a nearby shopping center. Once the idea for Prado West was born, Raintree knew Kuhn would be a perfect addition. Kuhn now feeds the local community from her newly expanded dining spot Maison Café + Market in a corner spot with outdoor seating at Prado West. Kuhn also opened a smaller wine and cheese shop, Avec Moi, next door. This momentum and partnership has continued, with Kuhn creating Giana Bakery & Provisions in another Lantern District redevelopment property owned by Raintree.  

Dana Point native Christian Goodman also joined the mix at Prado West, debuting Dana Point Ale House at the project. The value these local entrepreneurs bring to the Town Center redevelopment plan and Prado West is immense. It also provides a blueprint for how to implement a successful redevelopment.

Creating a Catalyst

As previously mentioned, projects of this scale can and do encounter challenges. Residents had their concerns about Dana Point’s proposed changes early on in the process. Many of these concerns were mitigated, however, when they saw their local owners/operators moving into the new spaces. Once that happened, residents became eager to support their neighbors. This local support was critical during the pandemic as many of the dining spots and shops were just starting to open when the shutdown struck. 

The local investment also allowed Dana Point to build on its surf culture and hometown spirit as residents are best at supporting the local “stoke.” It even motivated global surf wear brand Rip Curl to open a flagship store at Prado West. 

Naturally, Raintree wasn’t the only developer to help foster the Town Center Plan. The Winklers, local Dana Point residents, also invested in the historic Lantern District building, which housed the former Dana Point Hotel. The father-and-son duo are renovating the site with 23 new apartments and an outdoor courtyard. The building, which opened in 1947, has also been home to Jack’s Restaurant, owned and operated by local resident Jack Loconsolo, since 1997. The Winklers cited the history and character of the building, as well as Jack’s local clientele, as motivation for preserving the building’s authenticity. Their work also helps bridge the gap from old to new along Del Prado, the city’s main downtown thoroughfare.

That authenticity attracted another tenant to the Winkler’s property. Resident Danielle Desimone saw the Del Prado space as an opportunity for a home and interiors store. Now Desimone’s HOM is a popular shopping and event space in the Lantern District. 

Change can be a challenge for any city. But the commitment from local developers who are willing to get to know the existing community and encourage growth from residents and entrepreneurs who understand the city best can create a successful plan. The best part? That success can build over time, ensuring a steady consumer base who is equally as invested in the success of a new downtown.

— Kelly Reenders, Assistant City Manager, Dana Point, Calif.

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