New East Hills Mall owners keeping options open, but job one is underway: demo

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s been a long, strange trip for East Hills Mall, from the shopping center that brought retail energy to a part of the city that needed it badly, to a derelict nuisance, to this: Landfill fodder.

The new owners obtained a demolition permit Aug. 3, according to a city spokesman, and the actual work of tearing it down began Thursday. It might be three or months before the 36-acre site in northeast Bakersfield is scraped clean.

The owners, Southern California developer-investors Michael Heslov and Stephen Zimmerman, paid $7.2 million dollars for the property last June but have given no indication of what they’d like to do with it.

That’s because they haven’t decided. The partners have plenty of experience in retail — and the new East Hills Mall, whatever it’s called, will indeed have at least some retail — but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to alternative or additional uses — including residential.

Co-owner Michael Heslov says they’ll take their time.

“We do think there’s potential for some kind of multi-family element there,” he said. “Maybe some hospitality, potentially, I don’t know, but definitely retail and commercial.”

Heslov said the project has already attracted the attention of several prospective retail tenants, including two movie theaters.

The mall was once a bustling place, anchored by two now-defunct chains with Central Valley ties, Gottschalks and Mervyns. More recently it’s been an arsonist’s and skateboarder’s paradise. Its pending demolition doesn’t just set the stage for something interesting, it rids the city of a public nuisance.

Something Heslov says he’s happy to participate in.

“I know historically it’s been a real problem for the community and for the city,” he said, “and our instincts, and I think it was aligned with the city and the community, was let’s just get the project down and then start fresh and see who comes out of the weeds.”

A demolition worker told KGET off-camera that the mall is, for the most part, being demo’d from the inside out. Once the interior debris has been carted off, the exterior will be knocked down, inward upon itself to minimize dust. Sorry, no explosions anytime soon. Not here anyway.

Heslov said the area is ripe with potential.

“We’re right on the freeway, you’ve got Super Walmart across the street, and a Target and a Home Depot and a number of others,” he said. “All I hear from the outside brokerage community and the retailers is that, ‘We all want to be there, there’s this big demand, but there’s nowhere to go.'”

The developers, as noted, are based in L.A., but Heslov is proud to note that he’s got a Bakersfield connection. His late father, Doctor Arthur Heslov, DDS, was a 1951 Bakersfield High School graduate who played alongside NFL Hall-of-Fame running back-receiver Frank Gifford.

“I have his letterman’s jacket from 1951,” he said, “hanging in my closet.”

Perhaps as soon as the end of 2021, East Hills Mall will be East Hills empty lot. What comes after that depends, to a great extent, on what the market demands.

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