Bay Area mall The Shops at Tanforan will be razed for a massive biotech campus

The firm bought the property in three separate transactions totaling $328 million, the Mercury News reported. $105.25 million went toward the site of the JCPenney store in September 2021, while another $128 million secured anchor tenant Sears. The remaining $95.2 million covered the cost of the rest of the retail and restaurant complex in a final purchase that took place this week. 

“The retail apocalypse,” exacerbated by the pandemic and a major shift to online shopping, had long negatively impacted shopping centers like Tanforan, Jovan Grogan, San Bruno’s city manager, said in a statement.

“Then the impact of shelter-at-home and other public health restrictions since March 2020 led to the closure of many of Tanforan’s stores,” including Sears, Grogan added. 

In response, the San Bruno City Council adopted a Reimagining Tanforan Land Use Fact Sheet in July 2021 to encourage investors to assess the shopping center’s potential for mixed-use development. 

It’s a historical site that traces back to the Tanforan racetrack made famous by Seabiscuit. The track was also sometimes utilized as an airfield and was home to the first successful shipboard aircraft landing, a feat accomplished by aviator Eugene Ely. “It’s A Wonderful Life” director Frank Capra filmed scenes for two of his movies there, “Broadway Bill” and “Riding High.” Later, the area was used as a temporary detention center for Japanese Americans before they were sent to prison camps during World War II, as a plaque in a garden outside of the mall notes. It will be replaced with a new memorial later this spring.

It’s not immediately clear when the mall will close its doors, but Grogan is optimistic about the change and said it “sets the stage for the City of San Bruno to initiate a public master planning process that will crystalize the vision for this important piece of land in the heart of San Bruno and the thriving Peninsula economic corridor.”

The Bay City News Service contributed to this report. 

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