"We talked about doing phased development ourselves," Thoits said. "But the city didn't like that."
The 57-acre shopping center has been a popular topic in General Plan hearings, where residents have echoed the City Council's call for redevelopment. But in February, Thoits told the Voice that redeveloping the shopping center in such a way was a "pipe dream" because of the center's 16 owners and Wal-Mart's 50-plus year lease. Thoits also expressed resentment towards the council for rejecting plans for a Home Depot to replace Sears, which he said cost his family $85 million in lease revenue over 35 years.
In a May 8 letter to planning director Randy Tsuda, Merlone Geier chairman Bradley Geier said his company is looking forward to planning a redevelopment of the property into a "modern retail shopping destination potentially incorporating other uses."
The news of the sale pleased council member Ronit Bryant, who was a leading opponent of the Home Depot plans.
"I think that San Antonio shopping center is not living up to its potential," Bryant said. "Anything that moves us towards a thriving, hopefully mixed-use development there sounds like good news."
Geier added that his company will move forward with the acquisition no later than March 31, 2010. Thoits said a price has been agreed upon but would not disclose the amount, and Merlone Geier representatives were not immediately available.
"I know they've put a substantial deposit down," Tsuda said. "It looks like they are very committed to purchasing the property but it might take about nine months because of their purchase agreement."
The Thoits family company — a longtime Palo Alto property management and development firm that Fred Thoits said has been around since 1892 — has owned the property at San Antonio since the mid-1950s when it was farmland. But the family never developed the property themselves.
"Basically it's been out of direct management of the family since 1957," Thoits said. It was leased to a developer who managed the Sears property until 2005 and the rest of the property until 2008.
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